Public speaking anxiety in the corporate world – and how the stories we tell ourselves can make it worse
I have a client, let's call him Ben, who has recently started his dream job. He is a strong presenter, passionate about his work, is getting great feedback from his manager, and knows he is the right person for the job. But despite all this, he experiences high anxiety when presenting to an audience in his new job.
He dreads even introducing himself. He knows he will have to do more presenting in the future, and he is worried about undermining his credibility by looking nervous – or even worse – having a panic attack! Not that he has ever had one – in fact, he gets great audience reactions and good feedback after he presents. Ben also has a start-up and does not feel at all nervous when presenting in this context.
Ben is an extreme version of what I see in many clients. They are highly capable, reasonable or even good presenters and are comfortable presenting to certain audiences but are experiencing extreme anxiety in a corporate setting.
Here is another example. Sarah (not her real name) spent many years in the entertainment sector. She joined my course after starting a corporate job. Presenting was a large part of the role, and she hated it!
Sarah's first presentation in the course was about her previous career in entertainment. She was bubbly, engaging, charming, and showed no signs of anxiety. Her second presentation was what would have been a typical work presentation, and she seemed like a different person. She came across as professional but less engaging and relaxed. She had taken on a corporate persona that did not fit with what we had seen of her.
In the pre-course questionnaire I send to my clients, I ask them if any particular audiences worry them the most. Some people say, "all audiences", but the most common response is "senior leaders, executives, people who are senior to me and so on."
In this article, I explore what is going on for clients who get very nervous presenting to people with authority. It is a combination of a fear of being judged, the pressures of a corporate environment and feeling like they have to pretend to be something they are not.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.