Fear of public speaking

Fear of speaking in public

Public speaking, making presentations, giving a talk, making a speech, platform skills, etc. – however it’s described it can be a terrifying experience for many, if not most, people.

The term can be used to describe any situation where you are delivering more than a few sentences to more than, say, one or two people.

For most people this will involve addressing a small group of colleagues in a business meeting, making a sales presentation to three or four customers, talking in a committee or team setting, or announcing a toast at a wedding or birthday party.

The thought of having to give a talk, deliver a formal speech or make a business presentation holds little joy for the majority of people. Indeed, in surveys, this fear of facing a group of silent listeners is frequently rated higher than the fear of death!

You need some ‘nerves’

When setting out to reduce your fear of public speaking or making speeches aim to reduce your fear by about 75-80%.

Why not go for a 100% reduction?

Because, curiously, it is generally agreed that we actually need a degree of nervousness. Most professional speakers testify to the value of a certain degree of edginess before an important presentation, saying this provides just enough of adrenaline to ensure they come across in an interesting and engaging manner.

Fear of those silent listeners…

There can be many reasons for being fearful of making presentations. We may imagine the listeners disapprove of us, are going to criticise us or will walk out of the room in the middle of our talk.

Or we may remember feeling embarrassed in front of the class at school or in some less-than-successful public speaking performance. The range of possible explanations is endless. And pretty irrelevant.

Because when it comes to resolving this difficulty the historical reasons are much less important than what can you do to resolve the issue.

Your Action Plan

If you have to make presentations as part of your work you’re in luck because you get lots of practise! And you can use these opportunities to gradually develop better ways of doing your job.

If you only get to make presentations infrequently the process will still work for you though  you won’t have as many opportunities to refine your skills.

They are on your side!

Recognise that the audience is on your side. Generally the listeners do not want you to fail. It embarrasses you and them alike.

Good eye contact

Get really good at giving people excellent eye contact – as much as 3-4 seconds at a time. And ensue that as many as possible get this ‘reward’. it will make them feel acknowledged by you and they will generally affirm this by smiles or nods. It also helps your own confidence because you begin to recognise that it is not a THEM (that might unite against you) but a collection of different individuals.

Use silence

The actor Ralph Richardson said that it was pauses that made a speech. Use the pause to keep yourself from gabbling, to take time to breathe, to have a sip of water, to build an atmosphere where you are perceived as calm and authoritative – and to allow your audience to absorb what you have just said.


Develop your ability to manage your own breathing. This is a critically important skill. Use Buteyko Breathing as a start.

The Benefits

Career advancement: A key element in furthering your career in business, management or sales is your ability to address groups with influence and impact. Promotion is often based on how a person performs when part of or in front of a group. And many companies nowadays will only short list candidates who can perform influentially in front of a group.

Social life: Look forward with enthusiasm rather than dread to events such as weddings, parties, meetings, and gatherings even though you are likely to be called upon to ‘say a few words’.

Just for yourself: Even if you are never likely to be asked to address a formal group it is useful to overcome your fear of public speaking because you will feel better about yourself for having put behind you the old attitudes.

See also our Presenting with Influence workshop in Bournemouth, UK

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