Public speaking anxiety

Worrying about what people will think consumes too much time and energy. So instead of getting to the heart of the matter, you dilute your message to avoid controversy. Or you avoid speaking out on what you believe is right because you’re afraid of being called a fraud. When your public speaking anxiety causes you to hide, then you diminish your brilliance and dim all you have to offer.

Consider the things you delayed doing because of your concerns. Public speaking was a significant fear that I needed to tackle. My heartbeat would immediately pound in my chest as I thought about talking to an audience.

I avoided all networking and speaking for 12 years.

Public speaking resided beyond my comfort zone. I could speak all day in my office. That’s because it was my turf. My confidence quickly melted away, however, in any other setting.

The discomfort stemmed from inadequacy. Stumbling over my words. My introverted nature.  Concerns of criticism.

Tackling the fear

Eventually I decided to tackle my public speaking anxiety. Toastmasters offered the ideal solution. Have you ever been to their meeting?

Anticipating my turn was brutal. My heart beat loudly as I waited my turn to speak.  Instead of concentrating on the other speakers, I would rehearse my lines.

The meeting format forced me to think on my feet. This was exactly what I needed to face my public speaking fear. My mindset gradually started to shift.

I realized it wasn’t just me. Others in the group panicked about public speaking too.

I consistently face my public speaking anxiety.

Consistently face my public speaking anxiety.

What does judgment have to do with this?

“I don’t know that much. They’ll accuse me of being a fake.”

“I don’t have anything new to say. It’s all been done before.”

“They’ll laugh at me if I do that.”

“What if I fail?”

Fear of judgment is closely linked to fear of public speaking. So whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a newbie, we want to be well received. The difference between leading entrepreneurs is that they take action despite the fear.

Does public speaking anxiety plague you? It’s possible to overcome your fear.

  1. Admit. Acknowledge the fear. That was the easy part for me.
  2. Access. Explore why that fear exists. When did I first start to avoid being in front of a room? Is it any size audience? Does this happen when speaking to a group of children or only adults?
  3. Attitude. What beliefs fuel your fear? Which specific thoughts cause anxiety?
  4. Alternative. Is there another response you would rather have? How would you ideally like to respond when asked to speak?
  5. Action. Growth happens when you act despite the fear.  Identify another time in your life when you conquered a fear. How can that experience help you now?

Speaking to a group, no matter what size, was painful. As I went through this process each week during Toastmasters, I dug deeper to understand why my fear existed.

Why was it in my head? I realized it wasn’t always there. My public speaking anxiety stemmed from a fear of judgment.

Buying into the illusion

The thought of the audience judging me harshly fueled my fear. Deep down I knew my truth was different from reality. Yes, maybe there were some judgmental people in the audience. But they were not the majority.

Think about it. When you are in the audience listening to a speaker, and they falter, you are rooting for them to recover their composure.

I realized most people in the audience were cheering for me instead of quietly booing me. They were my allies; not my foes.

The illusion that they were waiting for me to stumble was all in my head. Fortunately, this story is no longer true for me. My reality has shifted.

Stop wasting time and energy

Now I realize if someone is criticizing me, then it’s not someone I want to know anyway. They enjoy finding the flaws. Why waste my time and energy on the few when there are so many who are genuinely interested in what I have to offer?

So if your public speaking anxiety stems from judgment, find evidence that your audience is on your side. Stop putting your stuff onto other people; believing you can read their minds.

No one is really paying that much attention. They’re distracted with their own stuff.  The mistakes you dwell over they quickly forget.

What fuels your public speaking anxiety? photo credit: Håkan Dahlström Microphones via photopin (license)

What fuels your public speaking anxiety? photo credit: Håkan Dahlström Microphones via photopin (license)

Here’s some sage advice to keep in mind:

  • Change takes time. Your public speaking fear has been around for a long time – challenging a fear takes time.
  • Baby steps. There’s a learning curve. Start out small and be patient. What’s one step you’re prepared to tackle right now?
  • Stick to it. Mistakes will happen. Instead of using them as a reason to quit, learn from them. If that situation happened again, how would you respond differently?

Hiding behind your public speaking fear will only serve to keep you in a safe place. Achieving your potential is difficult when you avoid risk. Instead decide to love what you now hate.

It was time to stop hiding

Signing up for Toastmasters forced me to speak publicly despite the fear. Instead of hiding in my comfortable office, I sought out speaking opportunities.

If my talk touches one person in the audience, then that talk mattered. That person would never hear my message if I didn’t speak up.

My public speaking anxiety is not completely resolved. Stadium audiences still cause my pulse to race. Speaking, virtually and in-person, has opened doors that were previously shut. What was once impossible is now possible. And that holds true for you as well. What are your thoughts about public speaking?