According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. – Jerry Seinfeld
Do you break into a cold sweat at the mere thought of speaking in front of a group? You are not alone. Fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, is the most common of all phobias, with almost 75 percent of the population suffering from speech anxiety. (The fear of spiders, clowns, and zombies also made the top 10 list of phobias.)
You may be safely nestled into a job where public speaking isn't required, but what if that were to change tomorrow? Here's the solution: our 6 top tips to overcome your fear of speaking in public!
1. Understand the root of the fear
What are we really afraid of? According to an article in Psychology Today, the fear of public speaking is a primal fear. We naturally fear ostracism, as it makes us more vulnerable to predators. The author, Glen Croston, writes, “When faced with standing in front of a group, we break into a sweat because we are afraid of rejection. At a primal level, the fear is so great because we are not merely afraid of being embarrassed, or judged. We are afraid of being rejected from the social group, ostracized and left to defend ourselves all on our own.”
Now that you have a scientific explanation for the fear, you can remind yourself that you’re not going to die, and that, in fact, no one has actually died from public speaking. The “fight or flight” fear response that you feel is just a false alarm, and it can be overcome by 1) Recognizing and acknowledging it, and 2) Changing our body’s reaction by developing coping skills, like deep breathing and positive imagery.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Anyone who is good at something has worked hard at it. Don’t buy into the myth of the “natural” public speaking whiz. Steve Jobs was considered one of the best public speakers, and it apparently took him thousands of hours of practice to get there. Practice as if you and your intended audience don’t know your material at all. This will help you to avoid forgetting anything, or glossing quickly over details that are important. Imaging giving the speech to your grandmother who is hard of hearing, then practice it out loud. While it may be your goal to merely speak without passing out, you will be surprised how much confidence several hours of practice will give you.
3. When you practice, practice out loud
Jimi Hendrix didn’t become the greatest guitarist of all time by practicing the air guitar. Make sure to practice out loud, using the same volume, speed, and intonation of voice that you would use during the real deal. You want to be able to memorize the sound of your own voice delivering the speech, which involves a different part of the brain than simply writing the speech. Pay special attention to your transitions while practicing, in order to guide your listeners naturally through your presentation. Some examples of good transition lines:
- “This leads me to…”
- “Now that I have explained this,…”
- “I would next like to discuss…”
- “One of the reason for this is…”
4. Educate yourself slowly
We know, glossophobics, you are used to imagining the worst. But stop. And don’t imagine the audience naked – do you really want to think about this among colleagues? Rather, use the powerful tool of visualization. We suggest after each practice session that you visualize yourself delivering your speech effectively. Take a few minutes to walk yourself mentally through the slides, your transitions, the audience reactions, and your successful closing remarks. Concentrate on the positive feelings you will have after completing the presentation, and you will train your brain to make it happen.
5. Visualize victory
Your new life does depend on it! If you want to break into a new industry, the best way is to find someone who can show you the ropes and make introductions. The best way to find that person? Networking events. Not sure where to start? Read our advice on how to start a conversation at a networking event.
6. Learn from the experts
Lucky for you, there are over 2’200 TED talks to watch online. They all have one thing in common: they feature someone up on a stage delivering a talk who was probably a bit nervous before going on. Watch their body language, listen to their transitions, see how and when they pause and look at the audience – and try to incorporate what you find successful into your own public speaking.