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The fear of public speaking seems to be quite widespread. It also seems to be an important skill that students and professionals need to become successful in their studies or in their careers. But in order to understand this common fear, and how to overcome it, we need to consider why we fear speaking so much and how we can cope with the fear and reduce it as much as possible.
Public speaking requires self-confidence. But how can you feel confident when giving a presentation or speech to a large number of people? Only by facing the fear of public speaking and by learning to relax can you begin to feel more able to speak confidently in front of an audience.
The above sounds much easier than it is in practice. I was once terrified of public speaking, both as a student at university and when I started working and had to give presentations. Having conquered this fear myself, and having lectured at Universities in several countries, I know how to help you to overcome this problem.
Firstly, we will look at why we fear public speaking so much. Then, we will discuss how to get confidence in public speaking by facing your fear. I will also give you some important advice and steps to follow to overcome your fear of public speaking and ways that you can improve your speaking skills.
Once you have finished reading this helpful page, I know you will be ready to face this fear with renewed confidence and determination to succeed!
Why do we fear public speaking so much?
Did you know that the fear of public speaking has a name as a phobia? It is called glossophobia. According to Rosemary Black, in her article on Psycom, the fear of public speaking is mainly the fear of being embarrassed or shunned in public.
The fear of public speaking makes most people feel uncomfortable according to this article and many others. The article above explains that this fear is really the fear of humiliation in front of others, the idea that speaking in front of an audience puts us in the spotlight and we don’t want to be embarrassed or judged negatively by a poor performance.
Arina Nikitina, in the book Successful Public Speaking (2011), says that approx. three-quarters of people suffer from a fear of public speaking. However, Nikitina also explains that in order to get confidence in public speaking, it is first necessary to accept our fear as normal, affecting most people. It is how we react to this fear and how we use it that helps us to become better speakers.
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In this article, published in the Journal of Voice (2017), it is claimed that approx. 64% of college students fear public speaking, with women suffering more than men. College students have often not spoken in public before and experience a lot of stress when they have to give presentations which will often be graded by their teachers.
How to face the fear, relax and feel more confident while speaking in public
There are a number of ways to get confidence in public speaking, but essentially they centre around two things. The first is to improve communication skills to increase confidence in speaking and presenting and the second is to practice those skills until the fear eases and confidence in public speaking becomes instilled.
As part of the communication skills training, strategies need to be learnt and practised to manage preparation, delivery and coping with stress or self doubt.
So how can you take steps towards more confidence in public speaking?
Here are a number of things you can try:
Make sure to rehearse well before you give your presentation. Practice and write notes to enable you to give a good presentation and prevent yourself from forgetting anything you will need to say. Notes should be very short just enough to jog your memory and keep you focused on the topic. good preparation can have a huge influence on our confidence in public speaking (Kelly and Watson, 1989).
Visualise yourself giving a confident and interesting performance, see yourself being calm, communicating your message clearly and smiling to your audience. If you can imagine, fully, your success, it is much more likely that you will give a great presentation.
See the whole experience of the presentation as a challenge and an opportunity to move forward and take steps to improve your communication skills.
- Slow down
When you experience stress or feel that you are nervous during public speaking, slow down and breathe to relax yourself. At all costs avoid any panic. Sppeding up is a big mistake we make when nervous.
No matter how you feel, if you look confident it will help you get a better response and it will help you to feel more confident too. The value of a smile can not be overstated. So be sure to smile!
Learn how to use the power of relaxation in this situation. Release the tension in your body and mind by relaxing your muscles and slowing down your breathing. Check out these relaxation techniques.
Improve your speaking skills
Most people who give speeches or presentations confidently have learnt the skill. As a skill you need to learn, with practice you can speak confidently in public too. There are many different techniques you can use to help you cope with the experience of public speaking. One of those I would like to suggest to you is to use positive affirmations. Self hypnosis can also be very effective. I’ll come back to this useful technique in a moment.
As Dale Carnegie put it, mastering the art of public speaking requires determination and persistence but the reward is that it will not only make you a better speaker, it will fill you with self-confidence in all areas of your life.
By working on the speaking skills required, you will gain confidence to speak well, but as Carnegie mentions in his book, How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking, you may never rid yourself of that nervousness or fear that you first feel before speaking. This is a natural and very common fear and can be used positively to help your performance improve even more, if you know how to harness that extra energy.
There are certain communication skills you can learn and become better at. One of these is the art of body language. For example, eye-contact is responsible for a large part of communicating any message. Grabbing the audience’s attention and involving them by catching and holding their gaze for a second or draws your audience into your talk. You can connect with your audience through body language and tone of voice.
Other important communication skills to learn include how to use correct posture, where and how to stand and move while giving your presentation, and how to include visual aids to make your message clearer.
The structure of your presentation is also important, as is the way you link your ideas to gether and signal what is coming next in your speaking.
With some practise and instruction, communication skills training can help you get confidence in public speaking and help to overcome the fear you have of speaking in front of an audience.
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And finally, I wish you success with public speaking! Please kindly share this page if you have found it helpful.
- Black, R. (2019). Glossophobia: Fear of Public Speaking. Are you Glossophobic? https://www.psycom.net/glossophobia-fear-of-public-speaking
- Carnegie, D. (2017). How to develop self-confidence and influence people by public speaking. Simon and Schuster.
- Garcia-Leal, C., Graeff, F. G., & Del-Ben, C. M. (2014). Experimental public speaking: Contributions to the understanding of the serotonergic modulation of fear. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 46, 407-417.
- Kelly, L., & Watson, A. K. (1989). Speaking with confidence and skill. University Press of America.
- Marinho, A. C. F., de Medeiros, A. M., Gama, A. C. C., & Teixeira, L. C. (2017). Fear of public speaking: Perception of college students and correlates. Journal of Voice, 31(1), 127-e7.
- Nikitina, A. (2011). Successful public speaking. Bookboon.
Website Author and Editor Bio
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.