The short answer is most people! But some people have extra high levels of anxiety about public speaking. This article explores how different personality types or attributes can affect people’s anxiety levels.
You have heard of 'Zoom fatigue' - the experience of feeling exhausted from being online all day. But have you experienced 'Zoom panic'?
I have had a spate of recent calls from people who have had a bad experience presenting online. Some of them tell me they have never liked public speaking, but presenting online has made it worse. Others are puzzled and concerned because they have considered themselves confident speakers until now.
A typical example was a call from a young woman who recently ran an online webinar for 50 people. The experience had been traumatic for her. She described having a panic attack and then having a similar episode a few days later.
A quick google tells me that these experiences are not uncommon. 'Zoom anxiety' is a thing.
Before the COVID19 pandemic, most people's experience of public speaking was to live audiences.
For people who have a fear of public speaking, you might think that the shift to Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other online platforms would have been a welcome relief. But, for most people, the nerves are just as bad online and sometimes worse.
A 2013 study (pre-pandemic obviously) verified this. The study's 70 participants gave a speech twice – once in-person and once online. The students' anxiety levels were assessed by a survey and heart rate monitoring.
The students expected to be more nervous in-person. But their heart rates were just as high online as they were in person. Self-reported nerves, surveyed post-speaking were also just as high online.
The study concluded:
"Based on results using both instruments, there were no significant differences in the amount of anxiety between delivering a traditional face-to-face speech and a speech given using web-conferencing technology."
Here are some reasons why I think that presenting online can be as anxiety-inducing as in-person.
Lack of non-verbal feedback
You probably feel more relaxed when you see your message resonating with others. Perhaps you get a nod or a smile, which can be very encouraging. But you don't tend to get the same non-verbal feedback online.
People react less when they are not physically present. Some will have their cameras off. And even if they are responding positively, you should be looking at the camera most of the time, which means you won't see their reactions.
Talking to a screen feels unnatural
Have you ever felt disconnected or had an out-of-body experience when presenting to an audience? You can hear yourself talking, but you feel like you are an observer, not a participant? Online presenting can exacerbate such feelings because there is nothing natural about sitting in an empty room and speaking to a screen! Seeing yourself on the screen can also be disconcerting.
And then there is the newness of the experience if you are not used to presenting online. I remember, many years ago, leaving a message on an answer-phone for the first time. I rambled and felt ridiculously self-conscious because I had never done it before!
You have an added worry – will the technology work?
As if worrying about what you are going to say is not enough! Now you also have to worry about things like screen-sharing and whether your Wi-Fi connection is stable enough.
It doesn't help that all of these online platforms all work a bit differently. Perhaps you are used to screen-sharing on Zoom, but now you are on Teams which is not quite the same.
It is harder to retain the audience's attention
As I said at the start, we are now all familiar with 'Zoom fatigue'. There is just something about staring at screens that makes it more tiring for the listener.
Most of us sit when presenting online, even in situations where we would stand if presenting face-to-face. But this tends to make us less engaging. And audience members can be easily distracted by checking their phones or what is happening in the background.
Even worse than getting little positive non-verbal feedback, you might think your audience members look bored! If that is true, it is probably not your fault, but it is natural to feel put-off by seeing people yawn!
You may be feeling more anxious generally
I often find that people who fear public speaking have some other sources of stress in their life that exacerbates their issues. And right now, the pandemic may be making everything worse for you.
Lockdowns have affected people in different ways, but perhaps it has been stressful for you due to loneliness, having children at home all the time, having to work in less-than-ideal conditions, or some other reason.
This is a significant factor, and it may explain why some people find presenting worse even online than face-to-face.
That is quite a list!
Of course, not everyone gets nervous about online presenting. Some people may even prefer it. But for many people, the lack of non-verbal feedback, worry about the technology, and oddness of talking to a screen can make online presenting feel uncomfortable. And more generalised anxiety that some people are feeling right now, can make things worse.
Eight things you can do to make it easier
Here are eight practical suggestions to make things a little easier for yourself. If you are usually a confident speaker, these things might be enough. But if you have always been a nervous speaker, you should also consider taking a public speaking course.
If you are experiencing 'Zoom panic' you are not alone. I have anecdotal evidence that lots of people are going through something similar. And research appears to back up that people find presenting online just as stressful as in-person – even without the stress of a pandemic!
Hopefully, you will find some of these suggestions valuable. Remember to check out that public speaking course as soon as this is possible! It will get better the more you do it. It is tempting to make excuses and try to avoid it, but this will make it worse in the long run.
Article written by Catherine Syme
When I ask my clients why they think so many people fear public speaking, they almost always talk about being judged.
Concern about being judged is a significant factor, but it is only part of it. Someone with strong self-belief tends to worry less about being judged - they might even relish it. But being judged when you have self-doubt can create intense anxiety.
Surveys show that most people are nervous about public speaking and around 10% of people have an extreme fear. Glossophobia is the term used to describe persistent and excessive anxiety about public speaking.
I have written before about why people fear public speaking. It is primarily a fear of being judged. But self-doubt is also a factor. Confident presenters don’t worry so much about being judged!
This article is about how glossophobia comes about - what are the factors that cause nervousness (experienced by most of us) to morph into something more extreme?
No good at public speaking? Six reasons why improving is just like learning to play a new sport (or any other complex skill)
I recently heard someone describe the three phases he goes through when learning a new skill. The first stage is fear. The second stage is grit – the hard work that goes into getting good at anything. Thirdly, there is mastery – the feeling of being highly skilled.
I found this relatable. I started my public speaking journey 17 years ago as an extremely nervous speaker. It took me eight years of consistent effort to feel proficient. Mastery is a strong word – especially when there is always room for improvement – but when things go well, I feel proud of what I have achieved.
I took up yoga around the same time as public speaking and have established a consistent practice that serves me well. I can identify the three phases too. The fear wasn't intense but I had nagging self doubt about whether my body was right for yoga (a baseless concern but very real!)
However, I can think of many things I have started but not achieved mastery or even proficiency.
Languages, for example! At various times in my life, I have studied Latin, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Māori – but have not become fluent in any of them. I don’t have a gift for languages – but nor do most people. I am not fluent because I never persevered long enough to achieve that level. In fact I have never really progressed beyond the fear stage - fear that I sound terrible!
Back to public speaking. Like any sport, craft, or even a language, public speaking is a skill-set that anyone can learn. No one would expect to be instantly good at a new activity requiring complex skills, but for some reason, we don’t view public speaking the same way. Many people are quick to judge themselves as just not suited to public speaking.
How to share something personal with an audience without oversharing! Seven questions that will help if you are unsure
On the first night of my public speaking course, I tell people the story of my epic public speaking fail. You can read all about it on my Medium site. The short version is that I had a panic attack in front of the senior executive team of the organisation I was employed by. Six months later, I joined Toastmasters. Twelve years later, I became a public speaking coach.
I tell this story to every new group without hesitation. My clients have a fear of public speaking. It is a perfect way to start the course because it helps reassure them that they are in a safe environment with a coach who understands how they feel. It also gives them hope that it is possible to move past a crippling fear of public speaking.
The first time I told my story, I looked for reasons not to. I was concerned it would make me look weak. And I did not want to re-live the shame! I wondered if I could get away with something vague like, “I used to be a bit anxious about public speaking, and so I understand how you feel.” But I realised that would be dishonest and not nearly as powerful as sharing that I once was them!
Although it is the right thing for me to share my story, I was justified in hesitating. I have been on the receiving end of speakers who have overshared — and you probably have too!
This guest Blog post has been provided courtesy of Bootcamprankings.com
Hiring managers have the unappealing job of sorting through hundreds of applications to find the right candidates. Everyone has heard the saying your resume needs to stick out in the 5 to 10 seconds a hiring manager will look at it. The best way to get the hiring manager to take a second look is to have a resume full of skills that make you an all-star fit for their company.
You probably already have some desirable skills companies are looking for, but there are a few areas in which you can bolster your skills to build a resume that will increase the response rate for your applications.
The job market is a continually evolving landscape where buzzwords fall in and out of favor and skills become obsolete. The changes can be dizzying, so it's best to focus on areas that interest you and will be in vogue for a long while.
Have you had an epic public speaking fail? Here is how to stop berating yourself and practice self-compassion instead.
Many of my clients come to me after an epic and humiliating public speaking fail – or a series of more minor fails.
I spend the first half of the course explaining the reasons why we are hypercritical of ourselves and why they have probably overestimated the extent of their failure. With public speaking, we judge ourselves more harshly than the audience does. We make inaccurate assumptions about what the audience is thinking, and we focus too much on our mistakes.
I explain that it is important to recognise these errors in our thinking (known as ‘cognitive biases’ by psychologists) and adopt self-talk to neutralise them. For example, we can remind ourselves that the audience’s attention is not entirely on us as the speaker. The chances are that no one will remember the occasional fumble! In other words, that epic public speaking fail usually is much more significant in my clients’ minds than in anyone else’s.
But in the second half of the course, I offer some tools for people who have had a genuinely bad experience. Perhaps they completely froze in front of an audience, and their manager has told them they have to do something about it, or someone tells them afterwards that they looked incredibly nervous.
One of the most effective tools I can offer is self-compassion.
This email arrived in my inbox today,
"Hi, I am terrified about public speaking and the panic attacks that come with it! I go to great lengths to avoid these situations, and it's having an impact on my life. Is this the sort of course that can help me? Thanks."
I highlight it not because it is unusual but because it is typical.
Nearly 90% of people who sign up for our public speaking courses report that they actively avoid public speaking. And almost half of them say that a fear of public speaking has affected their career. Some have not applied for a promotion or their dream job. Others have designed their whole career around avoiding public speaking - or so they think!
I'm sure you have people with an intense fear of public speaking within your organisation. And you probably don't know about them. You may be thinking that excellent communication skills are essential for your staff and the people I describe if they exist, don't have much of a future in your organisation.
But what if I were to tell you that people who dread public speaking could be some of your highest achievers? And they may already be in senior roles in your organisation? Now that you think about it, perhaps you have noticed that Susan always sends her team leader to board meetings rather than fronting herself. And maybe I have you wondering whether Neil really was sick when you had to step in and cover for him at a big presentation recently!
You are a bundle of nerves. You have an important presentation to give. You have been dreading it for days. You barely slept last night, and you can feel your heart pounding and the panic rising.
You look in the mirror, smile, and repeat three times, “I am a calm and confident speaker, and I am going to be amazing.”
Instantly you feel calm and reassured. Two hours later, you give your presentation. It is a huge success!
That’s great! If positive affirmations work for you, by all means, keep using them. But if instead, you have an inner critic that responds, “You liar. Don’t fool yourself. Last time was a disaster and this is going to be just as bad,” you need to try something else.
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.