Public speaking, simply put is difficult for most of us whether in front of a live in-person or online audience. And although you may well feel you are the only person with a fear of public speaking, it is much more common than you may first realise. Whether you are a technical executive or a CEO public speaking fear is something 99% of us will experience as we move up the career ladder. For most the natural response to being given a public speaking task will leave even the most confident individuals anxious and even terrified.
The good news is that by firstly understanding the fear we are engaging in the first step of conquering fear and replacing anxiety with positive speaking habits. Here we share our proven experiences and insights into why most of us experience the fear of public speaking, how specific public speaking skills transform, and how tailored coaching enables the development of positive fear-free speaking habits.
Why the Fear of Public Speaking is Natural!
The fear of public speaking is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and several factors contribute to this anxiety. It’s crucial to recognise that this fear is not unusual; in fact, it’s a very natural response. Here’s why:
1. Conversation Habit vs. Presentation Rules: Most people are comfortable having casual conversations with friends and colleagues. However, when it comes to speaking in front of an audience, they often feel the pressure of adhering to specific rules, which can be intimidating. If we think further, during a conversation we are able to get reassurance from our conversation partner. The validating ah-ha, yes, hmm-mm’s non-verbal cues, make us feel heard, in other words, validated.
Conversely with public speaking audiences are often conditioned into thinking they are not visible to the speaker. Think about your own experience at a conference – where you may be checking your phone or simply having a relaxed gaze in some direction. We assume the speaker can’t see us. The reality is that often the speaker can!
This reality brings about many dynamics one of which is the speaker’s mind going into overdrive. Assuming they are not making sense, being judged badly by their audience, that their audience members are bored or do not trust them the list goes on. The end outcome is that the speaker experiences a disconnect and with it a downward spiral of lessening confidence and more speaker anxiety.
2. The Adrenaline Response: When we stand in front of a group our body enters an alien environment, one it is not used to. Whilst we may feel at ease in group spaces, as soon as you drop a plate in a restaurant or at a party and everyone stares at you we feel embarrassed!
If you now think about the physiology of a confrontation with just one person it will often take place eyeball to eyeball, face to face. When speaking in public, your body experiences a similar adrenaline rush as if you are in fact in such a situation. The physiological act of standing in front of an audience mirrors these situations and the response is the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism, making your heart race and your palms sweat.
Furthermore, as we experience this anxiety energy shift, most of us will either freeze, ie: start stuttering our words, experience brain freeze or mind blankness, or feel we are talking with limited coherence and impact. Others may feel the flight response of speaking faster and faster, consequently running out of speaking runway.
Suffice to say the speaking adrenaline response for most amplifies the symptoms of fear and places most presenters in an extremely uncomfortable place that reinforces the speaking identity of fear.
3. The Need for New Skill: Based on the above it should by now be clear that Public speaking requires a unique set of skills that many people have not been aware of, have never been taught, and with little chance of developing due to the difficult nature of presenting. These specific Public Speaking skills include effective anxiety and mindset management, maintaining communication whilst controlling positive body language, and thought processes that enable the speaker to feel confident whilst engaging an audience. Right now – it may well feel like spinning too many plates, there are professional speaking shortcuts which we will introduce below.
4. The Public Speaking Mindset: Successfully overcoming the fear of public speaking is not just limited to building new skills of speaking delivery it is also centered on a shift in mindset. It’s about changing your perception from a fear-based one to a more positive and confident outlook. Understanding the mechanics of how is not just excellent for your speaking abilities but transfers across multiple areas of our lives. One of our Lead Coaches Billal Jamil describes it as “Building and then Wearing Your Public Speaking Hat” Effectively this means building a set of habits and personas you can turn on whenever you need. It is a gear or a state you can drop into that helps you frame speaking positively and confidently and when backed up with strong speaking delivery skills/mechanics you are able to feel and sound confident, an exceptionally powerful formula.
5. Message Architecture: Our conversations tend to follow a back-and-forth structure as the interaction produces clarity for the listener of a message and an opportunity for the messenger to clarify their message repeatedly in a series of ideas or layers. This is different from a group talk where the speaker will need to be able to convey without the aid and support of their audience.
Therefore your ability to provide clarity is centred on message architecture. In other words, structuring your speech effectively is crucial for getting your message across. Understanding how to create a clear and compelling message architecture is a key aspect of successful public speaking. One of the keys to understanding is that every message requires a bespoke structure, and some tools will suit certain messages better than others. Once done this enables the speaker to be fully understood which is yet another way of feeling validated by your audience.
For most of us – our structures may lack creativity, and feel clunky leading to limited engagement from our audiences. Imagine you explain a concept and most of your audience are frowning as they struggle to grasp what you are saying. Not only is it uncomfortable for all parties it also provides fuel for self-doubt and anxiety. Conversely, imagine your audience nodding and smiling as you deliver your message. How would it make you feel? Connected, Understood. Wanted. In short, the more we connect the more we feel confidence blossom in us as presenters.
All of these and many additional factors form part of your new presenting habit, which when done repeatedly will create positive speaking experiences and new speaking identity. Our formulas work because of the optimal mix you are coached in unique to your exact aims and challenges.