Sure, the biggest thing to fear may be fear itself.
But when you're standing in front of a group of people, poised to make a presentation, odds are the anxiety stems from some far more concrete worries — like putting your foot-in-your-mouth, forgetting everything you ever knew, tripping, falling, wardrobe malfunctions, technical glitches …
And need I remind you of the horror of having everyone laugh (at something you didn't intend to be funny) — or, perhaps worse, not laughing (at that humorous anecdote you practiced 27 times in the bathroom mirror).
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld crystalized the whole heart-pounding, palm-sweating experience when he joked about a study that suggested people’s number one fear was public speaking: “Go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
I could go on.
But I'm making myself stutter and I'm not even talking.
Let's Stipulate the Obvious
There's all sorts of research that shows the fear of public speaking or glossophobia ranks right up at the top of dreaded experiences, worse even, perhaps, than inadvertently accepting a video call from a professional contact while getting ready to shower.
Some studies claim fear of public speaking is America's biggest phobia, cited by more than 25 percent of the population. In contrast, only 8.9 percent are afraid of zombies and just 7.6 percent are afraid of clowns (making the ultimate plot for a horror movie one in which a public speaker watches his audience of clowns morph into zombies, right as he's fiddling with the clicker to move the PowerPoint to the next slide.)
Another study, conducted by a multidisciplinary team of Chapman University researchers, claim it ranks 5th, behind walking alone at night, becoming the victim of identity theft, "safety on the Internet" or being the victim of a mass/random shooting. (I have to question any study that rates ID theft as more concerning than a mass shooting, so let's move along.)
Let's just agree that the vision of making a public presentation generates plenty of sales of everything from propranolol to St. John’s Wort, and leave it at that.
From Fear to Reality
Payman Taei is the founder of HindSite Interactive (he's also the CEO, but thinks it's too formal a title for day-to-day use), a web design and web development company. He’s also the founder of Visme, a DIY platform to easily create and manage professional presentations and infographics.
And today he emailed a link to the perfect post for anyone struggling to speak before a crowd — a post with real, usable tips, beyond the old "imagine everyone in the audience is naked" (advice that makes me shudder more now than when I first heard it in middle school).
Anyway, Taei recalled His First: "The night before I must have gotten two hours of sleep and let's not talk about my palm sweating and my heart beating to a drum."
"Personally I don't consider myself by any means a great presenter. But the article written provided some insight of some techniques that have helped me and of course few that I intend to further work on to help me in the future. I think it will also help others as well," Taei told CMSWire.
You don't have to be paralyzed by the thought of speaking. Heck, look at these guys and how they overcame their anxieties.
10 Keys to Speaker Anxiety
Understanding what you fear is the first step to overcoming it. So let's look at Genard's list:
1. Self-consciousness in front of large groups: Remember that the people in a sizable audience are exactly the same ones you talk to individually, and concentrate on having a conversation with your listeners.
2. Fear of appearing nervous. Stop worrying. If anything, your audience will extend you sympathy if you seem nervous.
3. Concern that others are judging you. Close your eyes and tell me exactly what the person in closest proximity to you is wearing today. Beyond "clothes," how much can you recall? The fact is we pay less attention to each other than we think. The people in your audience care more about what you have to say than you as a person. "You can also console yourself with the knowledge that watching a speaker fail is embarrassing for all present. That means that audiences are actually pulling for you."
4. Past failures. Maybe it was during a high profile speaking situation or maybe it was in some public speaking class you were forced to take it school. Whatever happened, move on. You can't propel future success on a foundation of failure.
5. Poor or insufficient preparation. You were asked to speak because you have knowledge, insight or experience to share. Remember that. Think about your topic, know what you want to say and walk to the podium feeling prepared.
6. Narcissism. You don't matter. Your audience matters. Get over yourself and focus on them.
7. Dissatisfaction with your abilities. Practice. Watch speakers who you admire. If you think you'd benefit from professional speech training, then get it.
8. Discomfort with your own body and movement. No one expects you to be perfect. They just expect you to be yourself. Be real. Be authentic. It's more than enough.
9. Poor breathing habits. Excellent public speakers know how to breathe: from the diaphragm. Public speaking requires a larger reservoir of air than breathing for life. And your exhalation needs to be more controlled so you can sustain vocalized sound to the ends of phrases. Talk to an actor, a singer or just watch this video.
10. Comparing yourself to others. Stop. Just stop. You don't have to recite daily affirmations to have the sense to realize you're as good as anyone to speak before this group — even if it's full of zombie clowns.