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.
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.
Three stages of anxiety applied to public speaking – how you can intervene at each stage to stop the panic.
I am always looking for new ways to help people reframe their anxiety about public speaking, so I was thrilled to come across this TED talk by Lisa Damour – "3 steps of anxiety overload -- and how you can take back control".
She explains the three stages of anxiety and how we can intervene at each stage to stop ourselves from overreacting. The stages are:
I apply Lisa's three-stage framework to public speaking anxiety in this article. I look at some things we can do at each stage to prevent or minimise progression to the next.
Ever had the experience of going blank in front of an audience? Forgetting what you were going to say and starting to panic? Or had an ‘out of body experience’ where you could hear yourself talking (even waffling)?! You may have felt like a horrified observer.
Experiences like these are hugely disconcerting but not unusual. For most of my clients, their biggest fear is forgetting what they want to say.
Suffering from public speaking anxiety? Here’s what others just like you, have to say about their fear.
I have written this article for people who want to do something about their fear of public speaking but need encouragement to take that first step.
Many people hesitate because they know that taking a course will require them to do the thing they dread. Often they worry that they will be the most nervous speaker there!
Before starting a Fear-less public speaking course, I ask my clients to complete a questionnaire. And I hear similar stories over and over. I want to encourage people to tackle their fear of public speaking by sharing some of these stories and using my client's words.
I encourage people to talk about something they know and care about when they do the first speech for one of my courses. It requires little preparation, but more importantly, it eliminates one possible source of anxiety for people – having to talk about something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Often people surprise themselves when they do that first talk. And they start to realise that their job may have triggered their anxiety. The reasons for this usually relate to at least one of the following.
Most courses I run have at least 1 or 2 people attending because they have a wedding speech looming.
I also have clients who are still haunted by a ‘disastrous’ wedding speech in the past. For example, someone recently told me that he was nervous the whole day before his wedding because he was dreading his speech. Often such an experience is the impetus for them to register for a course.
It is a shame that the joy of such an occasion can be overshadowed by having to do a speech! But it doesn't have to be that way.
This article is less about the mechanics of writing a special occasion speech and more about how to ensure that the speech doesn’t ruin your experience of the occasion.
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 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.