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Let’s start at the beginning – what is the fear of public speaking?

Fact: if asked what your fears were, the average person would list their fear of public speaking before listing their fear of death. They even have a phobia name for it now – glossophobia! Public speaking is absolutely terrifying for up to most of the population and yet, this skill is absolutely crucial for many careers. The ability to communicate your ideas and concepts in a way that portrays a clear and confident message can really put you in good stead. That’s why this skill is introduced to you in school, furthered in university and is expected to be pretty well-developed by the time you begin your career. 

What causes the fear of public speaking?

Natural response 

By now, we all know about our body’s natural fight-or-flight response to danger. Our body goes into a state of anxiety when we’re afraid to speak publicly. This triggers our fight-or-flight response by kicking into our body’s autonomic nervous system. When we experience this reaction, we are more likely to freeze up in public speaking, which triggers more anxiety and takes us through a vicious cycle of fear. 

Self-confidence

Your self-esteem tends to influence the level of anxiety you feel. Someone who intrinsically believes that they are good at public speaking will experience less anxiety. On the other hand, someone who truly believes that they are worse at public speaking will have a fear of public speaking. These individuals are more likely to have a fight-or-flight response. 

This occurs when you view public speaking as something that is measured or judged by those who are listening. You are more likely to experience anxiety when you take a performance stance because you experience fear of failure. The contrast of this can be seen when you deliver an informal presentation. If you know your presentation will not be graded or if there are no negative consequences, you will be calmer.  

Environment/context

Another important influencer when speaking publicly is the pressure that comes with the context of your presentation. You will experience more publ-c speaking anxiety if the fate of your job rests upon whether you deliver this speech effectively or not. The more comfortable you are in the context of your presentation, the less anxiety you will experience. 

Practice (or lack thereof)

We’ve all heard how practice makes perfect and you might be rolling your eyes at this point,  but what better way to feel more confident than through repetition of your presentation within the environment that you are going to be speaking in. By becoming familiar with the context you are eliminating some of the fears that might come up when you formally present. 

Fear of rejection

Our fear of rejection is a very important factor that contributes to our fear of public speaking. It stems from a concern that we will be excluded from a social group.  It is an irrational fear that comes from our primal need to survive. We fear that when we perform poorly in our presentation, we will be judged by our peers to the point where they will begin to distance themselves from us.

Now that we’ve tackled the reasons for our fear of public speaking, it’s time to go through ways that we can overcome these factors and ace our presentations!

How to overcome your fear

Practice

Let’s start with the most obvious way to start working through your fear. Everyone is aware of how important it is to practice, but less common knowledge is that we shouldn’t practice to learn something off by heart. 
Important elements of your presentation that you should know well include; the order of your topics and the hard facts. 

Everything else needs to be practised to flow well together. This will ensure that you become more comfortable with your content. You will be less likely to freeze up when you are public speaking if you become more comfortable in the environment.

Try to choose a topic comfortable with

Practising your presentation will be far easier if you have chosen a topic that you are comfortable with. The content will come easily to you, if you understand your topic, however, it isn’t always possible to choose. If you are stuck with a topic you’re unfamiliar with, you can choose to present the information in a way that you are more comfortable with, which leads us onto our next point. 

Use visual aids

Visual aids are beneficial for both the speaker and the audience. Using visuals can keep your audience intrigued and focused for much longer and it can move their attention away from the speaker at times. Having fewer eyes on you at one time can reduce your fear of public speaking. Choose to demonstrate your point by using videos and audio – this will also mean that you aren’t talking for the entire time you present.

Top tip
If you are using slide presentations for your visuals, stick with the five-by-seven rule. The idea here is that you should only have a maximum of five points per slide and seven words per point. We’ve all seen presentations where the visuals are essentially the entire presentation fully typed out over a couple of slides. This is really frustrating for the audience because many of them would have read through the entire page before you even finish your second sentence.

Relax

I know this one is easier said than done, but it can make the world of a difference in your presentation. Before you start, take a deep breath and don’t feel like you need to start right away. Breathing deeply will slow down your heart rate and will lessen your anxiety.

Remember that as frustrating as oral presentations can be, they are also incredibly empowering. Being able to share your points effectively can help you in your future career by landing you the right deals and keeping you in good stead with your clients. Just take a deep breath, practice your heart out and use concise visuals and you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd. 

This article was originally published on 28 Feb 2020

About the author
Mekayla Preiss

I am a Copywriter and Content Creator for AdvantageLearn.com. I enjoy getting creative and have a passion for people and crafting compelling content, I hope to inspire the next generation of learners and changemakers.

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