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.
"I have so many good ideas and contributions that I can't say at work because I'm scared to express them."
"I am probably around 10-15 years behind in my career because of this fear."
"Years ago, I turned down a promotion and ended up resigning a few months later because I couldn't bear having to present my work."
And here is one that sums up all of this:
"It has impacted my career in many ways. I am very good at working one-on-one with people; however, when I have been offered side projects or more responsibilities, I have always turned them down for fear of having to talk in meetings etc. I have had opportunities to take on team leader positions, which I have the skill set for; however, the fear of addressing a group prevented me from doing so. I have always been so focused on avoiding and managing my anxiety that my growth in the workplace has been hindered. I have also had difficulty staying in a job for a long period of time as more was expected of me, the more these fears were exposed, and I would find reasons to leave."
You can see from these comments the impact of avoiding public speaking.
If you are avoiding public speaking, here are five reasons why you are not doing yourself any favours. And if you know or suspect others who are avoiding it, I hope the article will convince you to support them to start speaking!
1 – Avoiding public speaking actually increases your anxiety
If you have avoided a speaking engagement, you probably remember that the feeling of relief was short-lived! You may have quickly felt disappointed in yourself as you realised that the next time would be worse! Unfortunately, that is precisely how it works. A good public speaking experience usually makes you feel more confident the next time. But if you avoid it, all your fears will come back next time – probably worse.
Any fear requires gradual exposure to the source of fear to overcome it. Speaking to an audience of 2000 people with no experience will not likely increase your confidence. But you do need to present to small groups in low-stakes situations to become more confident.
A public speaking course or a Toastmaster club is a great way to grow your public speaking confidence. A course or club provides a safe environment to practice your skills without the pressures and expectations of the workplace.
2 – You risk being overlooked at work
If you are avoiding public speaking, you will be less visible in the workplace. Especially in a larger company, your talents may never be recognised if you shy away from public speaking.
Earlier this week, I delivered a public speaking workshop to a group of around 30 employees in a large company. The New Zealand manager of the company attended part of the workshop, and he remarked that seeing employees present is often how he identifies talent in the organisation.
Employers tend to place a lot of emphasis on good communication skills – and rightly so. You might be great at other aspects of your job, but you miss the opportunity to make others aware of this if you won't speak up.
3 – You limit your possibilities
If you go through life avoiding public speaking, you will start to rule out many potentially satisfying career options. You certainly rule yourself out of leadership roles, but many other positions also require you to be willing to present to small groups, clients, or larger groups.
Turning down the opportunity for a promotion is a common theme amongst my clients. On a more positive note, I have had people contact me to tell me about new doors that have opened for them after taking a Fear-less course – including teaching, entrepreneurship, project management, and leadership.
4– It will undermine your feelings of self-worth
Even if you do not have ambitious career plans, expressing your views or ideas in a small group can enhance your confidence and sense of self-worth – and not being able to do so has the opposite effect. You have probably experienced being in a meeting and wanting to say something but holding back, and then someone else says what you wanted to say and gets the credit!
5- You may not be able to avoid it forever!
If you find excuses every time you are asked to present, you will find it incredibly stressful, and eventually, you will run out of excuses and have to do it or quit your job! As you can see from my quotes, some of my clients take the 'nuclear' option – but often even this fails! Here is another comment from a recent course participant.
"I've quit jobs due to the fear of presenting and expectation of speaking in meetings. I have never wanted to be promoted to higher positions. I also changed my career path in the hope I could avoid it, but now it turns out I have to do it!"
Even if you select a career path that you believe does not involve public speaking, often you find it is required anyway! A small (but growing!) proportion of my clients have even managed to avoid public speaking for their entire career, only to find that they have to speak at their son or daughter's wedding or 21st birthday party!
Avoiding public speaking will make you more anxious, limit your career, and make you feel frustrated that you can't share your ideas or get recognition for your talents. And on top of this, you probably can't avoid it forever!
An essential first step is to actively seek out lower-stress opportunities to speak – at a public speaking course, a Toastmasters club, speaking up at a meeting, or saying a few words at a social engagement. As you get more comfortable, look for next-level opportunities, such as presenting to a slightly larger audience. The trick is to expand your comfort zone by taking small steps outside it. Eventually, you will find that a group of 200 people no longer terrifies you!
Article by Catherine Syme
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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.