By Kevin Ngo
Do you have a fear of public speaking? I would guess that if you are reading this, you probably do. For the longest time, I had the same fear. It’s actually not that uncommon. In fact, various studies have shown that the fear of speaking in public is ranked higher than the fear of death. In other words, some people would rather die than have to speak in public. This may sound a bit extreme to many of you but if you get nervous, shaky, and sweat like crazy just at the taught of speaking in front of a group of people, then you can probably see that it’s somewhat understandable, at least at the moment.
I remember I used to be deathly afraid of public speaking. My legs would get weak as I made my way in front of the audience. My mouth would tremble as I would begin to utter the first few words. I would sway back and forth or do some awkward things with my hands. I would avoid eye contact at all cost unless I find someone with a smiling face, then I would just stare at that person for the whole speech.
Have you experienced these things? It’s not exactly the best experience to have is it? Fortunately, there is a way to overcome fear of public speaking. Just to give you my experience, I went from what I described above to one day being able to confidently get up in front of an audience. I’m sure there are plenty of ways of overcoming this fear but what I will describe is what worked for me. Now for people with a severe phobia, professional help may be needed.
How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking
1. Understanding the cause of the fear.
The first step in getting rid of your fear of speaking in public is to find out why it’s a fear in the first place. The main reason is the fear of being embarrassed. This includes being laughed at, messing up, or doing anything foolish and having the audience judge you. Do you get nervous when you are in a room by yourself? Probably not. It’s only when there are other people, people who might judge you or think badly of you, that causes you to get nervous usually.
Knowing why you have this fear of being in front of an audience will help you figure out what to do to overcome the fear. Once the fear is revealed, it can be conquered. It could also be that you had a bad experience in the past that trigger feelings of fear. Either way, for most people, it comes down to the fear of what others might think of them.
2. Change your mindset.
In order to overcome this fear, you need to be able to change your mindset. When you can go from thinking about yourself and what the audience might think of you to thinking about the audience and how you can best deliver your message across, you will be able to conquer this fear.
Although you may still get nervous even if you have done dozens of speeches, the more you do it, the easier it will get. When you practice, it’s best to do it in front of a supporting group of people. This will not only make public speaking easier but it will also help you gain confidence. You can do things like join your local Toast Masters Club where you will get the chance to practice speaking in front of people who are all there to help you become a confident, well spoken speaker.
The way I was able to defeat my fear of speaking came in two phases. The first phase was the “I Don’t Care” phase. In high school, in order to get an A in my speech class (we were required to take it), I had to join the speech and debate team. Since grades were really important to me at the time, I reluctantly joined even though at the time, I was still afraid of speaking in public.
Since my sole purpose was to get an A in the class, I didn’t care about winning any debates or speech contests. Because of this attitude, when I got up in front of people to speak, I wasn’t nervous. Even when I messed up and forgot what to say, I still didn’t get nervous because I really didn’t care since just joining the team was a guaranteed A for me.
Is this the best way, not care? Of course not but it helped me. This was the first phase. The next phase took place during my sales career as a trainer. I went from not caring to focusing on delivering my message across. My job was to motivate people. It’s hard to do that if you focus on what people will think of you. So gradually, my focus went from thinking about myself, to not caring, and finally to thinking about my audience.
Instead of thinking, “What if I mess up?” I thought, “How can I best impact the people in my audience?” Those are two completely different questions. One question will put you in the mindset of fear while the other will put you in the mindset of power.
So overcoming fear of public speaking comes down to having the right mindset and practice. I you can, start practicing in front of supportive people. You can do this by joining Toast Masters as I mentioned. If that’s not possible, then just practice doing speeches in front of anyone, even an imaginary audience or yourself in the mirror. Volunteer to do short speeches whenever you can get the chance. The more you do it, the easier it will become.
From there, as you get more comfortable, start asking yourself audience and value focused questions like, “How can I add more value to my speech?” Once your focus is on creating value for your audience or positively impacting them in some way, your fear of public speaking will be greatly reduced because the focus will be more on the audience and less on you. Hopefully, even if you still feel some jitters, the fear will eventually morph into excitement. Good luck.