Dry mouth. Sweaty palms. Feeling like you’ll throw up any second. All because you need to speak in public. This reaction might sound strange, but for many, it is an all-too-common occurrence. Why do we get anxious speaking in front of other people?
About 77 percent of the population say they fear public speaking. For some, it’s just jitters when they stand in front of an audience; for others, it’s much worse. So what exactly causes this form of social anxiety? Here are the top 5 reasons people fear public speaking. (See if you can spot your reason)
1. Looking Like a Fool
No one likes to feel embarrassed. No one ever wants to feel someones else’s negative judgments. It would be unnatural if you didn’t have this fear. But when you consciously put yourself in a position where you expose yourself to all sorts of judgments, that can be pretty scary.
The real trouble is, high levels of anxiety will make you make more mistakes than you normally would in casual conversation. Unfortunately, obsessing over not forgetting our words or making a mistake has an adverse effect. Our brains go into a heightened state of self-preservation and we are unable to process thoughts. Our motor skills don’t work as efficiently as they would if we were relaxed.
Accepting our imperfections and realizing that we do not discard others for their imperfections is one of the best things we can do to help this situation.
2. Believing You Lack Credibility
Credibility is a massive fear, but when speaking in front of professional peers it goes up to a whole new level. There’s even a term for this fear — “imposter syndrome”. Coined in the 1970s to describe a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, and incompetence despite all evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps you believe the audience will think you are too young, and you don’t have enough experience. Or perhaps you think you are too old and ‘out of touch’ to talk about topics of today. Whatever story you tell yourself, you have doubts about your abilities, and you think the audience will see through the façade.
Here, the fear centers more on your belief that the audience is questioning you rather than questioning your message. We internalize the moment and believe if the audience doesn’t see us as a credible source, then they will not see us as a credible person.
One of the best ways to overcome this fear is to start looking at the facts of the situation. You were asked to give this speech. That means someone respects your knowledge and viewpoints enough for you to speak on the topic.
Also, are you versed in this topic? If you are asked to present on a topic you probably know more than the audience, or someone believes you can bring a new perspective. Either way, think about the benefits you can bring to the table by applying your personality to the subject.
3. Believing Your Inner Critic is Telling You the Truth
We have an internal judge and jury known as the ‘inner critic’. Critical thinking can be so habitual most people don’t even realize when it’s happening. (Hint: The inner critic will talk to in absolutes, black or white thinking, and projection of other thoughts.)
“I should give up already. These people will never forget how horrible I am. I can’t get up there, I’m going to fail.”
Yep, that’s inner critic talking. No one knows you better than you do, by the same token, no one knows your worst fears better than you do. In cases like this, when you have so much anxiety at even the thought of speaking publicly, you can be the one to bring yourself down faster than anyone else.
What can be done? Start to listen for your inner critic and when it rears its ugly self-defeating head, take small steps to challenge what it is saying. If your critic says you are going to fail, question why you think you are going to fail and what past situations lead you to believe this. When you search the Rolodex of your past, you’ll find very little evidence to conclude that you’re likely to fail.
4. Freezing in Front of Everyone
The fear of freezing and the fear of forgetting what to say share the same roots. You believe no amount of practice and preparation will prevent you from freezing up like a deer in headlights. It is our brain signaling there is danger and we become paralyzed by our perception of what is happening to or around us.
The good news is the audience does not know your script, only you know if you forget a line. If your communication is more one-on-one dialog like an interview, and you get flustered; pause, take a breath, and think about your answer. No one expects you to be perfect. An interviewer would rather you give a well-thought-out answer than watch you stumble over your words.
5. Being Recorded
People generally worry about being recorded but, being recorded while giving a public speech is a whole new level of anxiety. It can be difficult to think of our voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms recorded and available for future judgment. If we make a mistake or a funny face live, it’s only captured in the memory of the audience, but the idea of recording feels permanent.
And if someone posts it on the internet? You go viral? While this is a logical fear, it’s highly unlikely. Remember you are your own worst critic; the facial expression you hate, no one else thinks twice about.
One Last Positive Note
You might be able to relate to one or two of these fears. Others might be able to relate to all of them. While it is not easy to overcome all these fears, it is possible to mitigate the level of fear. You may even get to the point where fear still exists, but you can begin to enjoy public speaking.
Lastly and possibly most important, no one knows your fears as much as you do. The more you tell yourself you are horrible at public speaking, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a long journey that starts with you realizing you are not what the inner critic tells you!
Alan Carroll and Associates has been helping people overcome their fear of presenting for over 30 years. ACA focuses on getting down to the root cause of the fear through mindfulness techniques and provides the tools needed to become a confident and dynamic communicator.
To learn more about Alan Carroll & Associates visit acamindfulyou.com