When I was just starting out in my journey as a business owner, I never imagined how crucial it was for me to get comfortable, not only with taking risk, but with speaking to complete strangers about my work. Of course, it’s the part I look forward to most now — the opportunity to connect with individuals who also believe that greatness lays dormant inside them. My work in drawing this strength out of countless numbers of clients has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career.But giving a presentation with absolutely no stage fright or public speaking anxiety didn’t come naturally to me, at first — for most people, it rarely does. After years of learning more about my own thoughts about public speaking and seeing how addressing its causes transformed my speeches, I’m convinced that once you learn what the top 10 causes of anxiety in public speaking are, you too will be amazed at your own transformation!
Why is public speaking important?
Public speaking is perhaps the most critical skill for any young entrepreneur to master when they first begin their careers, no matter what industry. Everything from knowing how to speak with clients from very different parts of the world, to delivering an impactful keynote speech at a conference to audiences of hundreds of people all come down to this one skill. Not only that, effective communication can save you a lot of headache down the road; Apollo Technical reportsthat over 70% of corporate errors made in the workplace are caused by poor communication among team members.More errors means less time dedicated towards building your career, and more time fixing issues that could have been avoided all together!While it is clear that public speaking is the secret ingredient to opening many doors for our careers (and in fact, keeping mistakes to a minimum), many of us — even experienced speakers — find ourselves struggling with public speaking anxiety from time to time. Performance anxiety can undermine an otherwise stellar presentation from a passionate speaker. That discomfort and nervous energy can be felt by audience members almost instinctively.But it doesn’t have to be that way. In my last blog post, I went through the tried and true methods I use in my own speeches to help you prepare and execute impactful presentations using tools you already have available.No matter how much you struggle with stage fright, today, I’m here to tell you that the fear of public speaking is something you can tame. It’s an energy, a signal from your brain that is telling you something. My job is to help you realize that all public speaking fears have distinct, concrete causes, and you have the power to erase them. Through a combination of mindfulness, physical movement, and reassessing your thoughts about working with audiences, I can guarantee you that you will be able to give an actual speech with as much confidence as breathing.
What causes public speaking anxiety?
The fear of public speaking is in a class of anxiety disorders that include social anxiety disorder, where the real or imagined scenario of speaking with strangers provokes strong feelings of nervousness, worry, and a desire to escape the present moment. For some people with social anxiety disorder, the level of worry is so severe that they require professional help from a licensed mental health provider.Feeling anxious is completely normal, and it’s an emotion all of us have felt at some point in our lives. It’s a natural emotion that signals danger, threat, or unease in a way that is out of our conscious control. A healthy level of anxiety is expected in unfamiliar situations, and might even keep us safe.In fact, the American Psychiatric Association explains that some forms of anxiety can be beneficial where appropriate. However, when this anxiety prevents us from achieving our goals in situations where we’re not in immediate danger, it becomes a major source of frustration for many people.But the ability to overcome this anxiety is less about trying to project a facade of confidence, and more about channeling our thoughts into action that redecorates our ideas about talking in front of others. Audiences are experts in detecting phony gravitas. What is much more powerful, however, is to unlock the confidence you naturally project when you’re talking about something you know well.It starts with identifying thoughts that promote self doubt and self consciousness, like:“I’m afraid of being judged.”“If I mess up, I’m a failure.”“The last time I spoke in front of an audience, I forgot my words, so I’m going to mess up again this time.”These thoughts all have a root cause, whether from a bad past experience of giving a speech, or from how you typically handle anxious situations from learned behavior patterns. Whatever they may be for you, when we identify these causes, we intuitively know how to address them with positive thoughts.It will amaze you how much control we regain over our bodies and our minds.Without further ado, the top 10 causes of public speaking anxiety, and their solutions, are:
1. Fear of judgment
The thought: “Everything I’m doing is being judged. I shouldn’t have worn this outfit. I shouldn’t speak so slowly. They probably won’t like my ideas, anyways.”The problem: The fear of being evaluated and judged by others can create significant anxiety. Concerns about how the audience perceives our appearance, delivery, or ideas can be overwhelming.The solution: Giving a speech to a group, especially one full of complete strangers, can make us feel like every tiny movement of ours is being placed under a hyperfocused microscope. To address this thought, we remind ourselves that we are present on the stage because our ideas and our work are good enough. We wouldn’t have gotten this far if we truly were held back by tiny details in our appearance, delivery, or ideas, right?
2. Lack of experience:
The thought: “How am I supposed to give a speech like this? I’ve never done this before, I’m totally inexperienced.”The problem: Limited exposure to public speaking can contribute to anxiety. Without sufficient practice and familiarity with speaking in front of an audience, the fear of the unknown can intensify.The solution: If the fear of the unknown undermines public speaking confidence, then the obvious solution is to make it known! Like most things in life, the more you do something, the better prepared you are for the next time. Seek out opportunities to speak at small venues or in smaller groups of people. Joining a speech club, or taking a small communications class can make what was once unfamiliar and scary into something you know you can execute.
The thought: “If I don’t do this presentation perfectly, no one will take me seriously.”The problem: Striving for perfection and fearing any mistakes or imperfections during a presentation can lead to anxiety. The pressure to deliver flawlessly can be paralyzing. The solution: Recognizing that no one is perfect is the first step to fixing this. Speaking skills are not a hard science — there’s no real judgment of what is considered perfect or imperfect when it comes to delivering your ideas. Even then, an audience’s attention is rarely so precise that they notice the one time you stuttered on a word, or how you moved your hands between that last slide. Audiences are very forgiving. Remember that audiences don’t want you to be perfect, they want you to get them as excited about your ideas as you are!
4. Negative past experiences:
The thought: “The last time I gave a speech, I completely blew it.”The problem: Previous negative experiences, such as embarrassing moments or receiving harsh criticism while speaking publicly, can leave lasting imprints on one’s confidence and contribute to anxiety in future speaking engagements.The solution: A negative past experience affects us more than we realize. Recalling those times your English teacher criticized your speech assignment in 10th grade can bring all those feelings of inadequacy and nervousness back to the surface.Rather than dwell on this thought, we instead focus on what we’ve learned in the years since we’ve first started speaking in public. We forgive ourselves for being inexperienced in the past, and forgive others for projecting unnecessary negativity on us. We recognize that the past was simply that: the past. That’s where it will stay. Every one of us has a bad day happen to us from time to time! That one bad day is not your future.Practice your speech in front of trusted friends to receive feedback in a positive space. From there, practice in front of larger groups — the more you replace a negative past experience with present positive experiences, the less the past hampers your capability.
The thought: “I should talk in a more authoritative voice. I should wear this outfit, and if I don’t, no one will take me seriously. Am I moving my hands too quickly?”The problem: Heightened self-awareness and self-consciousness about one’s appearance, voice, or mannerisms can fuel anxiety. The fear of being the center of attention can be particularly challenging to overcome.The solution: The nerves about how we present ourselves can be very hard to break, since they’re based on habits that have little to do with our topic, and everything to do with ourselves. Remember to breathe — deep breaths reduce anxiety, and the more air we have, the faster we can move our focus from ourselves back to our audience. Imagine yourself as simply the vehicle through which your ideas reach the audience. It’s not about you, it is about them! When we take a minute to remember this fact, we take the focus off of our bodies, and redirect it to the main goal: helping our audience.
6. Lack of preparation:
The thought: “I didn’t practice this enough, I’m not prepared to give the real thing tomorrow!”The problem: Insufficient preparation or feeling underprepared for a presentation can increase anxiety. Without a solid foundation of knowledge and organization, doubts about delivering a successful speech can creep in.The solution: Practice makes permanent, and giving speeches is no different. Practice your speech as many times as you need to in front of a mirror, and make informed, deliberate choices about the technical aspects: where to place your notes, where to direct your eye contact, and where you want to give pauses between slides or topics. Know your topic well. If you’re confident in your knowledge, there’s no amount of distraction or unforeseen disorganization that can jostle you from your foundation.
7. Performance pressure:
The thought: “I have to be engaging and high energy to keep their attention!”The problem: The pressure to perform well, especially in high-stakes situations or when the audience’s expectations are high, can trigger anxiety. The fear of disappointing others or not meeting their expectations can be overwhelming.The solution: Remember that your audience expects nothing from you other than for the genuine passion for your topic to shine through. When you’re talking to your close friends about something you’re very knowledgeable and passionate about, do you feel the pressure to convince them? Absolutely not! Your natural fervor for the topic is all the convincing — al the “performance” — your audience needs to have their expectations met. Public speaking requires knowledge and preparation, not a perfect performance.
8. Fear of forgetting or going blank:
The thought: “I really hope I don’t forget the second part of the presentation. If I do, everyone will think I’m forgetful and unprepared.”The problem: The worry of forgetting important points or going blank during a presentation is a common fear. This fear of memory lapses or losing track of thoughts can contribute to anxiety. The solution: Speech anxiety can often make us forget our words. We become locked into the feeling of anxiousness that speaking anxiety places us in, that we worry that we’ll forget major parts of a presentation, even if we’ve practiced it many times. But remember, every single person who speaks on a topic, even one they know well, will lose their train of thought or forget something.Oftentimes, because our minds are racing a mile a minute, we haven’t really forgotten what we wanted to say as much as we’ve simply let our anxious thoughts get in the way. Take a deep breath. You may think a pause will seem out of place, but in fact, many speakers benefit from taking a small pause to collect their thoughts. We tend to give ourselves less time to pause than an audience would. Diaphragmatic breathing can help us quiet a racing mind, and collect our thoughts. For added insurance, include small visual aids in your presentation to help redirect you back to your train of thought. Something as small as a picture of your topic reminding you of your next thought can help bring you back to equilibrium for the rest of the presentation.
9. Lack of audience engagement:
The thought: “The audience is really quiet, the must not be paying attention to me.”The problem: A disengaged or unresponsive audience can amplify anxiety. Without positive feedback or interaction from the listeners, the fear of losing their attention or failing to connect can heighten nervousness.The solution: You are not a mind reader. You have no idea if the audience is disengaged, or so engaged that they’re hanging on to every word you’re saying. Maybe they’re being respectful, and they don’t want to interrupt. Social phobia,or the general fear of social situations, involves a belief that social situations demand that we keep others engaged in what we’re saying, and if they’re not, it is a reflection on our self worth. It involves attributing negative thoughts to the person we are speaking to without a rational reason to believe they are thinking negatively of us.Recall that you have no knowledge, or control over how an audience will receive your ideas. Focus on what you do have control over — your presentation, topic, delivery, and preparation. Your only obligation is to give your best!
10. Social comparison:
The thought: “The talks I’ve seen online are much better than anything I can do.”The problem: Comparing oneself to other skilled or experienced speakers can create feelings of inadequacy. The fear of not measuring up to others’ abilities or perceived standards can fuel anxiety. The solution: Comparison is the enemy of happiness! While it may seem like a perfectly logical idea to see how you measure up to other speakers, remember that they are not you, and chances are, would have absolutely no idea how to speak confidently about your area of expertise. Instead of comparing yourself to a speaker that has no relation to your topic, try analyzing what aspects of their speeches make them so engaging. Is it their delivery? Their format? Their tone? What aspects of other speakers do you admire that you can see yourself adapting for your own topic? You retake your power from this comparison, and put it back into yourself!
Public speaking anxiety is a normal part of learning how to deliver great speeches no matter what stage of your career you are in. Making the most of the skills you have, reprogramming your beliefs about giving speeches, and building your confidence in your work will ensure that your message will strike a chord with any audience you are speaking to.
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