Public Speaking Anxiety: What's going on?

Did you know:

1. The extreme fear of public speaking is called glossophobia.

2. It is estimated that up to 75% of people have some form of public speaking anxiety.

3. Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain had a fear of public speaking.

If you have fear of public speaking, you are not alone! This is much more common than you might realize.

But why?

Just like anything else, there are several answers to this.

1. Let's look at the physiological aspect first:

Fear and anxiety usually come as a response to a potentially threatening stimulus. This involves the autonomic nervous system, which can create that fight or flight sensation. Well, that's great when we're hunting and gathering in the same environment as our prey, but...public speaking? It turns out that a large group of people watching you speak and a large lion waiting to attack you might seem like similar threats to your brain. In both instances, you're being watched intensely.

This.... the same as this?

2. Another part of our fears around public speaking involves our thoughts:

What are your beliefs about public speaking? What about your own beliefs about yourself as a public speaker? Do any of these thoughts resonate with you:

"I'm not a good public speaker."

"I don't have anything important to say."

"No one would want to listen to me, anyway."

"I'm awkward in front of a crowd."

For people who seem to ooze confidence and remain calm during presentations or speaking events, they might think of public speaking as just another form of communication. For people who become anxious during presentations, they might think of public speaking as a performance.

What's the difference, and why should it matter?

Communication: This is what we do daily with friends and family. We express our thoughts and beliefs, offer lessons and learn from others. The goal of any form of communication is to express your thoughts in a way that can be understood.

Performance: This is what we do in front of an audience that we view as a group of judges. We perform to entertain, we hope to be judged favorably. Once our thoughts go into performance mode, the fear of screwing up can easily hijack the end goal.

3. Even if we aren't more inclined to experience anxiety and we think of ourselves as good public speakers/communicators, sometimes the situation can cause us to sweat more.

Here are the situations I'm talking about:

1. New audiences

2. New ideas

3. Lack of experience

4. Level of evaluation

5. Status difference

You might be used to speaking in front of colleagues or students, but once you step in front of a new audience you know little about, anxiety might increase. This goes for new ideas, as well; we can become very comfortable with discussing the same topic every year, but if we come in with a brand new idea, how can you not become uneasy? Change can be scary or difficult to manage!

As with anything else, lack of experience will boost anxiety. The first time you speak in front of an audience will be much more terrifying than the 10th, 20th, 50th time you speak to a group!

Have you ever watched Shark Tank? Those entrepreneurs are being openly evaluated as they speak (WHILE offering new ideas to a new audience!) Speaking to a group of evaluators can lead to exacerbated levels of stress.

Finally, there's status difference. Just like in my Shark Tank example, many of these people are presenting to people of higher status, which leads to fear of looking "dumb" or unprepared. I've personally had to battle my anxieties around presenting to large groups of physicians given the common perceptions around our status differences.

5. Finally, we look at how skilled we are as a public speaker.

Are you good at presenting yourself as an authority on the topic you're discussing? How is your speaking rate, body language and posture, and organization? If we lack the skills to present with confidence, then we allow a platform for anxiety to present itself.

Do you resonate with any of these public speaking anxiety triggers?

Find a coach to help you prepare, practice, and propel your public speaking skills to the next level. Glossophobia can prevent you from taking risks to share your ideas, solutions that could benefit many people, or to discuss your work and expertise.

Don't let this fear hold you back.

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