Public Speaking: More Feared than Death?

fear_of_public_speakingI am often asked by new or aspiring speakers how to overcome the fear and sometimes downright paralysis associated with speaking in public. You may have read or heard about some people that fear public speaking more than death! Although this is utterly ridiculous, there are those that wouldn’t stand before an audience and utter a single word, phrase, sentence or speech under any circumstances or for any price.

Fear of speaking in public is considered a performance anxiety disorder. Of these disorders, public speaking is indeed the most feared. Others include test-taking anxiety and athletic performance when the game is “really on.” So if you’ve recently been tapped to deliver a first-ever talk to your garden club, PTA, or church social, here are a few tips for conquering your fear of public speaking:

  • – Seek out speakers that you’ve heard before and believe to be competent, effective and enjoyable. Ask if you could send them a tape of a talk you’ve recently given or plan to deliver, or invite them to hear you in person if you’re speaking in their neighborhood. What you want is frank feedback that can be used to critically examine your progress. Ask these speakers what they believe you’ve done well, what should be further developed and what underwhelms them, which might be abandoned. Taking these steps will help build confidence.
  • – Choose an association of professionals that is geared to provide feedback. Toastmasters is a good alternative because it offers speakers an opportunity to hone their skills in front of a supportive audience.
  • – If possible, prior to the speech you’re giving, chat informally with some participants, particularly in smaller groups. Use these people as your “friendlies.” Their smiles and nods will quickly increase comfort levels.
  • – When appropriate, speak with the use of visuals, this helps mitigate the feeling that the audience is “staring you down.”
  • – Prior to the speech, do something or think of something that makes you laugh. Listen to a humor tape, think about some enjoyable times you’ve had, watch a good comedy. This will promote relaxation, and you want to feel as though you’re in a “fun mood” before you hit the platform.
  • – Consider the use of “beta blocker” drugs (Inderal, for example) to help alleviate some of the peripheral manifestations of anxiety, such as trembling or excessive sweating. Beta blockers should only be used after consulting with your physician and should never to be considered a substitute for other ways of handling your fear.
  • – Seek not to be perfect, but to be comfortable. Audiences don’t care if you’re perfect, but they will only be comfortable if you seem to be.
  • – Understand that mature, motivated, and intelligent audiences want you to succeed.

Finally, take heed of the following: Your presentation will not mark a turning point for all of civilization. Prepare well, show up, deliver, and then go home. The Earth will continue to revolve around the Sun, no matter what happens to you on stage.

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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