If you have a fear of public speaking you are not alone. Research shows that 75% of the population fear speech making. In fact it is our number one fear, with people fearing it more than dying! Public speaking can cover everything from speaking up in a group, to speaking in a meeting in work, or in addressing an audience.
So why is speaking in front of a group or an audience so terrifying?
A lot of the anxiety is related to the thoughts that we are having at the time. We all have thousands of thoughts every day, many of them we are unaware of. Think about the last time you had to say something in public, at a party, at work, before an audience. What thoughts were you having? Perhaps they were along the lines of: “They are going to think I don’t know what I am talking about. They will think I’m boring. I can’t have all those people looking at me”. Those thoughts all reflect a fear of being judged by others and being found wanting. We all worry about what others say about us, and when we are in spotlight we can feel like a target for everyone’s judgement. When we have those negative thoughts we can start to feel anxious, our hands might get clammy, we may find it hard to concentrate. We might start shaking and even feel like we cannot stand up.
The fear can be so strong that people do all they can to avoid public speaking. This avoidance reinforces the anxiety. The more that we avoid something we don’t like doing, the better we feel about not doing it. That is taking us further away from tackling our fear and “just doing it anyway”.
Fear of public speaking can be treated a bit like fear of things like spiders. Gradual exposure can built up your confidence and reduce your anxiety. So for instance if you have a fear of spiders you might start working with someone to reduce your anxiety by first talking about spiders, and when that becomes more comfortable, then perhaps looking at pictures of them. Public speaking can work the same way. You might start by reciting something out loud in front of the mirror. Then when you get more comfortable you might move on to the next step of doing the same thing in front of a friend or family member.
Anxiety can affect all areas of our life. Cause Effect Psychologists would be more than willing to share strategies with you about how to decrease your anxiety and improve your well-being.
Written by Suzanne Klotz of Cause Effect Psychology