If previous attempts to tackle your fear of public speaking have failed, this article is for you. It explains why learning public speaking skills, practice (preferably in a safe environment), and mindset shifts can work together to help you overcome a fear of public speaking. I like to think if it as a three-pronged approach. Like the legs on a stool, you need all three!
I have had clients who keep ‘putting themselves out there’ but find they are still highly anxious and can’t understand why – until I explain that they may need to examine some of their beliefs or mindsets about public speaking. I have had other clients who attend one of my courses thinking they can just take notes and be cured of their fear! Unfortunately, it does not work this way!
Let’s take a look at each of the prongs.
The number one goal of people who do my Fear-less public speaking course is to become a confident speaker. Their number two goal is to get rid of the nerves.
With a bit of work, anyone can become a confident speaker, but getting rid of the nerves is unlikely – and unnecessary! In this article, I explain that confident is not the opposite of nervous – you can be both.
Today’s blog post has a simple message. Everyone wants to become a more confident presenter. But confidence is not something that just happens. It takes courage and practice to become more confident.
Confidence is the number one thing people who fear public speaking want to gain. "I want to become a confident presenter.” “I would like to gain confidence in front of an audience.” "I want to look like a confident speaker” “I want to feel more confident when speaking to an audience.”
These are all things that clients tell me. But many also tell me they avoid public speaking as much as possible! And that is having the opposite effect – it is eroding their confidence.
Skilled speakers exude confidence, right?
Not necessarily. Many reasonably good speakers suffer from intense self-doubt, which ruins the experience of speaking for them and holds them back from becoming great speakers.
If you are an anxious speaker, you have probably decided you are rubbish at it – but, as this article explains, you may well be underrating your abilities.
I run courses for people with public speaking anxiety. In the pre-course questionnaire, 80% of participants say that they avoid public speaking if they possibly can. They turn down opportunities, get 'sick' on the day, ask others to step in for them, and even turn down jobs.
I am not suggesting that 80% of all people are actively avoiding public speaking. But I bet many of us have wriggled out of doing a presentation at some stage in our lives – I know I have!
Here are a couple of the more heart-breaking comments I have had from clients.
Public speaking is a performance, but it is not the same as acting. There are two main differences. The first is fairly obvious – as an actor, you are being someone else, but as a public speaker, ideally you are being yourself. Many people struggle with being themselves in front of an audience. How often do you hear people go into 'presentation mode'? They take on a professional persona that is an unconscious form of acting.
The second difference is about your relationship with the audience. An actor pretends that the audience is not there. But as a public speaker, you are there to engage directly with the audience – you acknowledge your listeners. To the audience, you are the whole point – and vice versa. Otherwise, you may as well just hand out notes!
Yoodli is an exciting new AI public speaking tool that I am using in my coaching.
A lot of my work is with people who have extreme public speaking anxiety that holds them back from achieving their career and life goals.
In my experience, there are three things that people need to overcome a crippling fear of public speaking:
Yoodli won’t replace the coach but it is a great tool to enable safe practice and support skill development.
Remember learning to ride a bike? You probably started with training wheels. What happened when your parents removed the training wheels? Perhaps you went, wobble, wobble, wobble, splat. The next time the wobble lasted a little longer before the splat, and then maybe by the third or fourth time, you went wobble, wobble and then took off. You were away!
Would you have ever learned to ride a bike if you had kept the training wheels? Unlikely. Training wheels don’t teach you to balance; they just give you a feel for sitting on a bike.
Relying heavily on notes when you are learning to speak publicly is a bit like using training wheels on a bike. You will never be able to deliver a speech without notes if you always read your notes. Unlike training wheels, you may not need to ditch your notes altogether. But you will need to stop reading them!
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.
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.