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How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking?

How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking?Updated on November 22, 2020 | Published on October 15, 2019
Reviewed by Dr. Johanna Lamm, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist and Meditation Teacher

Fear of Public Speaking_ What you can do to become an effective public speaker!

The fear of public speaking or Glossophobia is one of the most common conditions that affects 4 out of 10 people. This fear may have developed in an individual because of a previous experience where the speaker’s presentation/speech may not have been received well. Other reasons include a history of having been misjudged, rejected, or embarrassed during an event in early life.

Some incidents like failure to deliver a presentation in front of a classroom may not have appeared intense at the time when it happened but can have fatal long-term implications. For some, it is an in-built personality trait. It is common for children who have not been exposed to social situations or large crowds to develop a fear of public speaking. Small incidents could trigger severe trauma and distress. 

Symptoms of Glossophobia (/Fear of Public Speaking)

The anxiety associated with public speaking can be accompanied by a number of physical and emotional symptoms.

For those affected, speaking in front of a small or a large group could trigger glossophobia. The symptoms can either be physical or emotional. The physical symptoms include –

  • Stomach knots
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Light-headedness
  • Muscle tension
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Increased blood pressure

The emotional symptoms could either be verbal or non-verbal. Verbal symptoms include –

  • Stumbling over words
  • Stammering
  • Voice modulation
  • Repetition of words

The non-verbal symptoms include –

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Constant fear
  • Nightmares

How to Get Over Fear of Public Speaking?

There are numerous ways of overcoming your fear. They can either be self-practiced or you can seek professional help.

Here are some practical tips to overcome the fear of public speaking:

Fear of Public Speaking_ What you can do to become an effective public speaker!
Fear of Public Speaking_ What you can do to become an effective public speaker!

1. Recognize your fear

Recognize your fear
Recognize your fear

The fear of public speaking is real and common. Fear sees pain and failure. It does not allow you to do anything new or unknown. It makes you build a boundary wall around you and consumes you. The first step toward eliminating the fear of public speaking is to know that it is extremely common and accept that you have it. This will help you figure out an action plan to overcome it.

Fear makes you react in numerous ways. Stepping back to analyze the result of your reaction is important. You must try to eliminate the fear of rejection by trusting your instincts. Mental Emotional Release therapy can also help you release stress, anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions.  

2. Organize yourself

Organize yourself
Organize yourself

Simplify the process and do one thing at a time. Taking control of the time and priorities in life helps you organize yourself. You must understand that delegating things will help you concentrate on the important stuff. Find your corner of peace where you can reflect on your thoughts and speech.

When your thoughts and speech are organized well, it tends to reduce your anxiety and stress levels. Avoid last-minute changes to your speech.  Having said that, we know sometimes change is inevitable, so be ready to adapt and embrace unforeseen last-minute glitches.

3. Practice and Prepare in advance

Practice and Prepare in advance
Practice and Prepare in advance

We know that practice makes you perfect. Practice helps in reducing repetitive mistakes and errors. With patience and dedication, practice will enhance your knowledge and expertise. Practicing the same thing repeatedly will help in boosting your confidence. Therefore, prepare well before delivering. Do not leave anything for the last moment.

4. Practice in front of a mirror

Practice in front of a mirror
Practice in front of a mirror

This is a really good practice to eliminate fear as you pretend to deliver a speech to the audience. When you look in the mirror, you can focus on your facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. This will help you make eye contact with the audience while delivering your speech. Our subconscious is very susceptible to the things we say out loud. We are our own critic. Therefore, this technique is very useful for driving away your fears. Adolf Hitler, one of the most influential speakers of all time had the habit of practicing in front of the mirror. 

5. Use audio aids 

Use audio aids
Use audio aids

Record your speech before delivering it. Observe it objectively and make modifications where required. This will give you actionable insight. You will be able you correct your tone and grammatical errors. It will also help you in knowing where voice modulation is required. Every subject needs a different tone. For example, you cannot use the same tone while delivering a comedy speech and narrating a tragic event. 

6. Exercise and practice breathing 

Exercise and practice breathing
Exercise and practice breathing

This helps to calm your mind and get clarity. It will reduce your stress levels. Breathing helps you get into the rhythm. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” involves breathing deeply through your nose for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and then forcefully releasing the breath through your mouth for 8 seconds. This technique has been proved to reduce anxiety levels considerably. 

7. Practice in front of another person or group

Practice in front of another person or group
Practice in front of another person or group

Performing in front of friends, family, or known associates before speaking to the actual audience helps you get hands-on experience. You may ask them to review your performance. You may also have a brief one-on-one question and answer session with them. This will help you get insight into their reactions and you can adapt your speech based on their interests, level of understanding and beliefs. 

8. Dress well and wear a smile

Dress well and wear a smile
Dress well and wear a smile

This is a very important part of public speaking. People usually judge you based on how you dress. It is not necessary to wear expensive clothes; wear something that is comfortable and suits the occasion. The way you look outside influences the way you feel inside. Dressing well will help you make a great first impression on your audience and command attention and respect.

Smile is an integral part of your overall persona. No matter how nervous you may be, always wear a smile. It makes you look more attractive, relieves unnecessary stress, and elevates your mood. A smile will help you get a more positive response from the audience.

9. Know your audience

Know your audience
Know your audience

When you are speaking, you want the listeners to understand and benefit from it. It is very important to know the type of audience you are going to address. Some of the parameters could be the age group of the audience, their education level, and the languages that they know. Do a thorough audience analysis to avoid offending anyone with your comments. The speech should appeal to the audience to keep them engaged. Successful public speaking involves audience participation. Therefore, make your speech interactive.

10. Pick a subject you know

Pick a subject you know
Pick a subject you know

Sometimes during audience interactions, you may have to face questions that may be irrelevant. You must not panic. Just focus on giving the answer in a way that helps the audience connect to the subject well. Also, never memorize your speech. As the famous Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand”. So, you must do a lot of research and read on the subject. This will boost your confidence.

11. Use creative visualization

Use creative visualization
Use creative visualization

The use of visual aids helps enable an in-depth understanding of the subject. Several studies have shown that the human brain has the power to decipher visual images faster than verbal communications.

Powerpoint presentations are a fantastic way of engaging audiences and reducing panic if you lose track of your thoughts. Sometimes, based on the subject, you can use actual objects or models while delivering your speech. Photographs, maps, and sketches are also effective visual tools. For comparing data, you can use diagrams, tables, or pie charts. These help in simplifying the contents of the subject. Also, it is easier for people to take notes when facts are presented as numbers or percentages. 

12. Watch your tone and speed

Watch your tone and speed
Watch your tone and speed

It is necessary to watch your tone while speaking to a crowd. Make sure you are subtle and that your tone reflects your personality. The audience should not feel that you are trying to impose your opinions on them. People tend to be more attentive and receptive to compassionate speakers. The tone of your voice is not just about how you speak but also about what you speak. Talking too fast is also not advisable because it can make you breathless. Practice slowing down; it will also help you remain calm and composed.

13. Seek professional help

Seek professional help
Seek professional help

There are many great classes that teach you how to speak in public. They provide you with training videos and books that will build your confidence. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment that helps you manage your problems by influencing your thoughts and behavior. It is used to treat a lot of disorders, including any phobias or anxiety related to it. A lot of people use this therapy to get over their fear of public speaking. 

14. Gauge the audience’s reaction

Gauge the audience’s reaction
Gauge the audience’s reaction

If the audience is not attentive or interactive, don’t assume that your speech is bad and get disheartened. Try engaging your public with questions, puzzles, or a story. Make peace with the fact that you cannot please 100% of the audience with your speech. Allow yourself to be human and make errors. Pick the positives, work on the learnings from the experience, and turn it around the next time! 

15. Don’t fear moments of silence

Don’t fear moments of silence
Don’t fear moments of silence

It is normal to occasionally blank out while talking. When this happens, take a moment, breathe, drink water, and resume. Brief pauses are a part of great speeches. The audience too needs time to process what they have heard. Pauses sometimes help you convey emotions and help you control the pace of your delivery. 

16. Turn off the lights

Turn off the lights
Turn off the lights

Some people can find it easier to deliver their speeches or presentations in a dimly lit space. It helps them conceal their nervousness. However, most speakers avoid using this technique as dim lighting affects memory and learning. Also, a lot of speakers want to play off the audience’s reaction as it helps them maintain a rapport, and this is not possible when the room is not lit well. 

17. Begin your speech with “I’m really nervous” 

Many people start their speech with “I am really nervous to give this speech” or “I am not a great public speaker but I will try my best”. These lines releases inner tension of the person and person is not holding on it. This helps to warm the audience to you, as you immediately become relatable. 

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” The most inspiring example of glossophobia is that of the Father of India, Mahatma Gandhi. The man who led the Quit India Movement and drove the Britishers away from our country suffered from severe panic attacks as a schoolboy.

My vision became blurred and I trembled, though the speech hardly covered a sheet of foolscap

MK Gandhi

Even when he became a lawyer and had to face the judge for the first time, he panicked and left the courtroom. The turn-around came when he found a passion that was stronger than his fear of facing people. His desire to see free India was so strong that it helped him overcome his fears. He wrote

Be stubborn because you have considered the maximum number of people who will benefit and wish to serve them by solidly banging the drum for what you know to be true.

MK Gandhi

Another prime example is from none other than the USA’s stalwart leader and renowned public speaker Abraham Lincoln. After he gave a powerful speech on March 6, 1860, at Cooper Union, an arts and science college based in New York City, he became a much sought-after personality and was invited to address a crowd in New Jersey by a political committee. Lincoln is known to have declined this invitation, clearly citing his nervousness making him unfit to deliver this speech!

Some other great leaders who got nervous when they had to speak in public are Warren Buffet, Thomas Jefferson, and Winston Churchill. They all worked on overcoming their fears and became great orators. Take a leaf from their book; instead of avoiding what scares you, jump right in and tackle it head-on. So, instead of thinking of ways to avoid public speaking, learn the ways to tackle this fear. Remember that it is just a state of mind. 

6 Tips to Become an Effective Public Speaker

  1. Start by making small talk or quoting your personal anecdotes. 
  2. Choose topics that reflect your passion. 
  3. Establish common ground with your audience, discuss your shared interests. This will help you connect with them and make you more confident about speaking to them and reaching out effectively. 
  4. When you are out there, focus on how you can influence people positively with your message. 
  5. Relax and breath to calm yourself. 
  6. Practice often to build your confidence. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Public Speaking Anxiety?

Public speaking anxiety is a common phenomenon that triggers fear when speaking in front of the audience. The reasons for fear of public speaking could be one or more. It could be because of a past experience when the speaker was ridiculed or it could be that they have an inborn phobia. This anxiety leads to palpitations, trembling and stammering which then intensifies the embarrassment of the speaker.

What is the fear of public speaking called?

The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. It has come from Greek words. In Greek, glōssa means tongue and phobos means fear. Often the fear of public speaking is also referred to as ‘speech anxiety’.

What causes fear of public speaking?

There can be many reasons for the causes of fear of public speaking. One of the main reasons could be that the person had a bad experience while speaking publicly at some point in their lives. This memory now acts as a hurdle to them. Also, the person might have glossophobia or a phobia to speak in front of public.

Why do people fear public speaking?

In most cases some people have an inborn fear of public speaking or phobia called glossophobia. In other cases, they might have a bad experience in the past. Maybe a teacher or a parent had criticized them as a child when they were speaking. Or maybe some of their peers have mocked them at school. Now this fear has become deep-rooted and acting as a stage fright.

What are the signs of speech anxiety?

The signs of speech anxiety could be slight to severe! Some of the signs are –
1. The whole body or the hands starts to shake before or while speaking.
2. Mouth becomes extremely dry and voice becomes squeaky. 
3. Palpitations starts.
4. Stomach aches or twinges unnecessarily.
5. The person sweats even though the temperature is cool.

Closing thoughts

While it is extremely frightening for someone with a fear of public speaking to see himself/herself on stage, delivering a confident, well-written speech in a friendly yet eloquent manner, one needs to remember that fear is just a thought. It is only in our minds, and with concerted efforts, we can learn to stop scaring ourselves and achieve our goals. Focus on your passion, and success WILL follow.