If you want to overcome your fear of public speaking there are practical steps you can take. Having had an anxiety disorder as a child, I have grown to know anxiety well and the best steps to take to overcome all kinds of fears.
Fear of public speaking affects so many areas of your life from job interviews to work presentations and also participating fully in your own life. And it’s surprisingly common.
However, many people tend to think they are just shy, anxious or introverted and therefore avoid situations such as public speaking that give rise to uncomfortable, anxious feelings. This is, of course, one way to deal with anxiety, and for many years I did this too.
However, at some point, I realised that this was limiting. It limited my ability to be myself around others, it limited my opportunities for work, my ability to truly connect with others and most importantly, it limited my sense of wellbeing because I continued to be someone who lacked confidence and who suffered from anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing happens overnight – but I was actually surprised that within a few months of joining a public speaking group, Toastmasters International, I made some serious improvements in my confidence.
Here’s a simple step-by-step process that you can apply to your own life and see results.
Step 1: Identify your fears
What are you afraid of? Get to the bottom of the issue and be clear about what you’re actually afraid of. If it helps, write it down or talk it through with someone.
Perhaps it’s the fear of being judged by others or making a mistake, or it could be fear of fear itself.
You may also notice a long list of ‘what ifs’ arising in your mind. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I mess up? What if I start to panic or go blank?
Be clear on your list of ‘what ifs’ and start to challenge them. What if I do make a mistake? Is that such a bad thing? What if I do start to panic?
Ultimately, the only way to answer the ‘what ifs’ is to do it. Speak in front of others, that is – but that’s not until step five.
Being aware of your fears is the first step to overcoming them. Once you’ve identified them, oppose them with logical solutions; for example, if you fear that you’ll mess up, then oppose it by practising lots and reminding yourself that you are well prepared because you practised.
Step 2: Challenge your limiting beliefs about public speaking
How confident do you think you’ll feel about giving a talk or recording a video of yourself, if, in the run-up to it, you’ve repeatedly told yourself you can’t do it, you’re going to mess up and it will all go wrong?
It’s important to challenge these limiting beliefs and not allow them to remain.
Make a decision not to follow your negative beliefs about yourself and also about others and the world around you.
If it helps, use affirmations and try to remind yourself of these affirmations regularly, but especially before you present. One example of an affirmation is: I will present confidently and with ease and my audience will benefit from what I’m about to say.
Step 3: Learn public speaking techniques
If you were to ask someone to swim a few laps of a pool when they had no idea how to swim, this would clearly be a bad idea and that person would be frightened of attempting such a challenge.
Would they be frightened because they’re an anxious person? Well, they may be an anxious person but that’s actually irrelevant because the point is, they don’t know how to swim.
Public speaking is just the same. I always think it’s extraordinary that we ask people to give talks or presentations without any training at all.
It’s not taught much at schools but you’re expected to be able to present both at university and at work.
It’s so common to conclude that it’s just a scary thing to do – but so is swimming when you don’t know how to do it.
Admittedly, public speaking can bring up a range of different fears but the analogy still works in that you can feel much more confident about doing it if you know how!
So, learn some techniques, put them into practice and see how your fears reduce.
Step 4: Practise and get the right feedback and support
Once you learn some techniques it’s crucial that you practice them. If you had a swimming lesson but never actually practised, you would expect that your ability to swim would still be poor.
Public speaking is no different.
Practise what you learn then get some qualified feedback. By qualified feedback, I mean someone who knows about public speaking. This is where joining a group or getting a coach can really help.
Step 5: Take action – prove your anxiety wrong
The more you avoid the things you’re anxious about the worse the anxiety becomes; the best way to overcome fear and anxiety is to truly face your fears.
Anxiety is a problem of overthinking so you cannot think your way out of anxiety: taking action is the solution.
Taking action directly opposes the anxiety because it blasts away the flood of fearful thoughts: by taking action, you’ve just proved them wrong.
The truth is, there’s never a good time to conquer your fear of public speaking. It’s a myth to believe that at some time in the future you’ll just naturally start to feel more confident.
Take action. Action leads to confidence, inaction leads to more inaction and further anxiety.
However, please take note that I am not saying that it’s a good idea to go from a shy, introverted person – perhaps with an anxiety disorder – to booking yourself a stage in front of a thousand people! On the contrary, please don’t do that, there are better ways.
First, assess your levels of anxiety, then decide a next step that will challenge you but not traumatise you!
You could do a video of yourself and show it to a friend, or you could agree to do a presentation at work or wherever it is you would like your voice to be heard.
When you start to feel more confident, your experience of life begins to change.
Fear of public speaking can be overcome: it’s simply a question of challenging your fears and limiting beliefs, learning the techniques, practising and getting the right support, then taking the right action for you.
Speaking in front of a group is a fast track to a more confident you. If you can speak in front of ten, twenty, one hundred people, naturally you’ll start to feel less anxious and more confident in your everyday life.