If you thought your fear of cockroaches was the most prevalent fear, you are wrong! The fear of public speaking beats this phobia by a mile. Would you believe it, if told, that the fear of public speaking exceeds the fear of death among Americans?

Illogical as this fact may sound, this fact is cause for some serious reflection. When we have such a large fear right in our midst-three in four people have it by some estimates-isn’t it time to look at this issue?

My intention is to help my readers understand this phobia from a few select perspectives. I will dwell into an understanding of what this phobia is, but more importantly, I will try my best to offer solutions on how to overcome it.

Ready? Let’s get started. Even before I venture out to laying out what all I will be covering in this blog, I want to warm up your minds with a course what fits this topic like a peg to a hole. Take some time off to go through this lovely educational material. It will aid and supplement the article that is going to unfold before you over the next few paragraphs.

As promised, I will first lay out the outline for this blog. This blog’s outline is as follows:

  • Public Speaking Anxiety
  • How do I know if I have social anxiety?
  • What are the signs of speech anxiety?
  • What are your greatest fears of public speaking?
  • What causes a fear of public speaking?
  • Why are so many people afraid of public speaking?
  • How to keep your nerves calm during a speech, aka tips for helping you overcome the fear of public speaking
  • What are the best ways to overcome social phobia?
  • How to deal with sudden anxiety or a panic attack in public
  • Is the fear of public speaking bad for you? How to know if it is good or bad for you?
  • What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Public Speaking Anxiety

The first step to dealing with public speaking anxiety is obviously, to get an understanding of what it is. So, let me get started on the common understanding of public speaking anxiety. The words spell out what this malady is: the fear or anxiety of speaking in public. Here, the public need not be the person on the street or the park, but someone who has a connection with the speaker in some or another way.

Let us say lecturing is a kind of public speaking. Why this qualifies so is because the lecturer is speaking to a set audience, mostly students, on a defined topic in a defined space, which here could be the classroom. If the lecturer had a fear of lecturing to the students, then, this anxiety would be called public speaking anxiety.

So, this is a bare definition of public speaking anxiety. Further, let us get down to the etymology of the common phrase used to describe public speaking anxiety. The word for public speaking anxiety is glossophobia. This phrase is derived from the Greek words, “glossa”, which means language, and phobia, whose meaning most of are familiar with.

How do I know if I have social anxiety?

So, how do you (or I) know if we have social anxiety? Simple: if we have public speaking anxiety, we are suffering from a kind of social anxiety, because psychologists consider this so. In fact, their relationship with each other is so close that many people use these two words interchangeably, which is what I too, am doing through most of this blog. People suffering from social anxiety are prone to their own unique signs, which I will explain in the next paragraph.

However, we need to draw a distinction here. The social anxiety we are talking about is something that affects people who are otherwise normal in every other sense. When social anxiety or fear of public speaking affects people who are diagnosed with speech issues, this does not make them candidates for social anxiety or glossophobia. Their case is quite different.

What are the signs of speech anxiety?

Well, it is important to note that what we classify as signs of anxiety can happen to most people once in a way, on specific occasions, such as while meeting strangers, giving a presentation for which we could be unprepared, facing tough situations at work, etc. But what is different about people with this disorder is that they exhibit these signs in their day-to-day interactions with people. With such people, it is a mental condition that can affect their daily routines.

These are some of the telltale physical sigs and symptoms of speech anxiety or fear of public speaking, each of which is quite self-explanatory. However, I want to go a little beyond just listing these. I will set out to suggest which of the tips I have suggested in the beginning works best for each of these:

The feeling of “butterflies in the stomach”: This is a fairly common trait not only among people who are nervous about public speaking, but also among top notch performers! Can you ever believe if I told you that some of history’s greatest names suffered from stage fear, but, like great men, overcame it? This “illustrious” list includes Warren Buffett, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Joel Osteen! So, relax and stay inspired.

So, take heart, because, after all, only the first few moments can be like this. It will sort of iron out with time. To overcome this, the tip I would suggest is the one on getting used to the ambience. It is just like the darkness we experience when entering a cinema, to which we get adjusted after a little time.

Sweating: The medical world says that we sweat during anxiety because the brain perceives a certain degree of anxiety and releases the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn stimulate the eccrine and apocrine glands, the sweaty glands. So, the way to address this problem is simple: apply the tip on deep breathing/meditation, because this calms the mind and works wonders.

Dry mouth: This again is related to the condition where the brain, when nervous, sends out a variety of signals to show that it is going through a tense situation. Dehydration is the direct physical cause of a dry mouth, so drink lots of water. And yes, meditiation is a readily available tip to overcome dry mouth when you are going through anxiety.

Shaking: Shaking is one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety, especially public speaking. This requires you to cultivate the right frame of mind if you want to overcome it, because like sweating, this can also settle down after a few moments.

Quickened heartbeat: Another very identifiable symptom of anxiety; quickened heartbeat is something you can overcome with deep breathing. Let me assure you, it works wonders.

Difficulty in finding one’s voice: The main reason we get a difficulty in finding our voice is that when we are nervous, we are eager to show that we are not, as a result of which we end up exacerbating just what we wanted to suppress! Nothing to worry, because I have mentioned the tip on using some body gestures in helping to soothe the nerves. Just try them out.

What are your greatest fears of public speaking? 

According to Forbes magazine, there are as many as seven greatest fears of public speaking:

Selfdoubt:

Doubting whether one can summon all the talents and confidence at the precise time of facing the audience can rattle even gifted speakers

The audience: This is another fear of public speaking, and quite rightly so. This is all the truer if the audience consists of heavyweights

Surprises: We all love surprises, but certainly not of the kind an unexpected question or intervention at a public speech!

Nervousness: This trait is pretty common amongst most people, and hence needs no elaboration

Technology:

What if the ppt fails? What if I fumble with the app that I am using for the speech? These anxieties are quite understandable fears of technology that can impede public speaking

Forgetting: How will I manage if I forget important points of my presentation or speech? This question can bug most people who are required to give a public speech

Time: How do I pack my speech and finish within the stipulated time? Am I going to cover all the points or will I miss out important ones?

What causes a fear of public speaking?

That is, why does the fear of public speaking happen, and what are the symptoms?

Let us look at some of the causes of fear of public speaking:

Feeling self-conscious:

This is quite a natural thing to happen when one is facing large audiences. We are constantly worried about a mannerism or our body language

Fear of being judged: Undoubtedly, this is as big a cause of fear of public speaking. We are worried about what people will think of us if we fail

Past record: Like most entrepreneurial ventures, public speaking can get deterred if there is a past blot. Just as how a past failure can set us off badly in our future endeavors in business; a past record can also diminish our chances of succeeding in a public speech

Comparison: One thing most societies do is to compare people with one another. This spills over to our public speaking too, causing a fear. Being compared to an ace can put us off.

Why are so many people afraid of public speaking? 

Psychologists attribute many reasons for why we are afraid of speaking in public. One theory proffered for this fear is that it is a primordial fear that man has inherited from the stone age, cave dwelling days. The fact that we had to face other animals, who were adverse rivals, made us nervous in dealing with them. The “fight or flight” response mechanism that is wired into the human brain has not yet got disconnected with the advancement man has made, as a result of which this instinct comes to the fore when we have to face what the brain tells us is a challenging situation.

How to keep your nerves calm during a speech, aka, tips for helping you overcome the fear of public speaking

In other words, this section has tips for helping you overcome the fear of public speaking! Try out some of these:

Keeping our nerves calm in situations that are inherently tense is not the easiest of tasks. Yet, we can learn this trait, because we are the ones who benefit from it the most. Some of the steps that one can think of to keep the nerves calm during a speech include:

Practice: This goes without saying, because this is the most basic of approaches. Once you are clear about what you are going to speak, a good part of the anxiety can be stalled.

Get used to the ambience: Yes, this is a neat little trick to forestall the fear of public speaking. We are more nervous usually in new surroundings. Familiarizing ourselves with the environment can make us feel more at home.

Learn from others: Like all other skills, watching the better gifted people do it gives us confidence. If they could do it so well, why not me, should be the attitude.

Body gestures: Some gestures such as smiling, taking deep breaths, pausing at the right time when you are not sure, etc., can go a long way in soothing the nerves.

Drink lots of water: This may sound strange, but let me tell you: most of the physical signs of stress and anxiety get aggravated with dehydration. Drinking lots of water makes up for it, as it builds up a store that the body can use when needed.

Cultivate the right frame of mind: Undoubtedly, this should rank as the most important means to keep the nerves during a speech. Why should you take it up a speech as an unpleasant chore? Why not take it as a challenge and see it as a means to enhance your reputation? Taking any challenge head-on makes it more malleable and less intimidating.

What are the best ways to overcome social phobia?

Does a reading of all the above suggest that once a person has a social phobia, she has to live with it for a lifetime? The good news is: no. The solution lies with the person who has the problem, that is you and me. So, we are the ones who have to learn to overcome social phobia. Try some of these tips for overcoming social phobia:

Assess the problem:

Getting a thorough understanding of the nature of our problem helps us to place it in the right perspective. This is the key to knowing how to go about it.

Consult a therapist if needed: It is good, but not essential to take the help of a professional therapist. A professional such as this can be of immense help, but not everyone necessarily needs one. So, decide if you want the services of a therapist and then consult.

Set goals: Overcoming social phobia is a destination, not a journey. One has to understand that Rome was not built in a day. Social phobia is a product of the mind, the most complex machine ever built. So, understand that it takes time to set the house in order. Set realistic goals and stick to them with discipline.

Learn deep breathing techniques:

This is the simplest, yet the most effective means to calm our nerves. Take the advice of a yoga practitioner and start working on this wonderfully brilliant, easily accessible method that will boost your confidence and prepare you to take on social phobia directly.

Hey, I want to present a lovely video that suggests a few of these techniques. Go through this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3fz0eiBGvA. I am confident it will help you get a better perspective of this topic.

You could also take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEStYVONy-0. What I like about this presentation is that the speaker underplays nervousness. It makes you feel comfortable that after all, it is a fact of life. You could turn nervousness into excitement!  

How to deal with sudden anxiety or a panic attack in public

Getting a sudden anxiety or a panic attack, a sudden and intense spike in fear or panic or anxiety, can be quite scary, especially when it happens in public. I have seen many people experience it. How do people with it cope with it? Let us examine some of the ways by which to deal with sudden anxiety or a panic attack in public:

Recognize the symptoms: This is the root to dealing with it

Deep breathe: This can relax the brain

Close the eyes: Doing this blunts the trigger

Mindfulness: This is a powerful breathing technique that can fray irritated nerves

Relax the muscles: This technique can control the body’s response mechanism

Keep objects such as lavender and benzodiazepines at hand.

Is the fear of public speaking bad for you? How to know if it is good or bad for you?

Well, a highly pertinent question like this has a rather subjective answer: “depends”.  The reason I say this is this: it is up to you to take a call on whether you want to get bogged down with the fear of public speaking and let the fear dominate you, or get going and conquer it and be a winner.

When public speaking fear bogs you down, don’t get intimidated. Keep trying. Take it up as a challenge and strategize a plan for overcoming it. It could take time, but don’t worry. Once you have emerged victorious, so to speak, the level of confidence that you will feel is palpable, and is of a different level altogethers. You can be a leader, you can earn extra leverage among your audiences, you can win their trust, and you will be liked because you quote from personal example, which makes your presentations very attractive! I have furnished the most stellar examples of people who have done this. Want to join them? You can!

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT has been gaining popularity with the psychologists and counseling communities as a method of dealing with many psychological conditions. In simple terms, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a variety of psychotherapy that helps patients get a comprehension of the feelings and thoughts that influence behavior.

Psychologists believe that this kind of outlook helps patients identify what thinking causes negative behaviors and change them. In other words, CBT focuses on the root cause of many psychological issues, which is why it is considered a very effective tool in addressing short-term problems. Phobias are among the areas that CBT helps to tackle.

Conclusion:

Fear of public speaking can be quite a hell of an issue for people with it. Are you one of those with it? Have you felt frustrated and let down because of it? If you have felt the need to overcome it, it is never impossible to do so.

Today, there are enough resources to deal with the fear of public speaking. Rather than get bogged down, it pays to get up and get going. Like most other handicaps, it can be overcome with the right understanding and help. Want to start trying? The best time is now!

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