8 Common Public Speaking Fears — and How to Squash Them

8 Common Public Speaking Fears — and How to Squash Them

If you suffer from glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, we hate to break it you: you’re not unique. According to the Washington Post, this fear trumps those of heights, bugs and airplane travel. But despite the commonness of this fear, it affects every petrified speech giver differently.

Thanks to an interesting new test from Murray State University, you can take a simple quiz to find out just how much—and how exactly—the fear of public speaking impacts you. We’ve compiled eight of the MSU survey’s most common symptoms of public speaking anxiety, and paired them with surefire ways to quell those fears forever. It’s time for us to face our onlookers and our fears.

1. While preparing to give a speech, I feel tense and nervous.

Nerves are the most obvious symptom of speaking anxiety. To alleviate these jitters, the Mayo Clinic recommends using deep breathing techniques prior to delivering your speech. The “4-7-8” method is particularly helpful: inhale through your nose for the count of four, hold your breath for the count of seven, and exhale completely through your mouth for the count of eight. Repeat this three times and this almost effortless technique will have noticeably calmed your nerves.

2. My hands tremble when I’m giving a speech.

Trembling is a common reaction to getting onstage for a speech. Forbes notes that this fear is a manifestation of our natural fight or flight response, not a sign of weakness. Your hands trembling is actually a dose of adrenaline preparing you for the challenge you’re about to take on. Redefine this fear as what it really is: a positive mood enhancer that strengthens your resolve and narrows your focus.

3. I experience considerable anxiety while sitting in the room just before my speech starts.

When feeling anxious, it’s helpful to zero in on something other than your racing thoughts. Get outside of yourself by connecting with the audience, perhaps by shaking hands and partaking in warm banter before your speech. Or, if socializing will only stress you out further, latch on to a visual cue. Pay attention to the red jacket in the last row, or watch a pair of boots tapping on the floor. Focus on humanizing the audience instead of your own nervous energy.

4. I get anxious if someone asks me something about my topic that I do not know.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice and practice some more. Master the topic beyond the confines of your speech by discussing your area of expertise in casual social settings, such as a dinner party or in the office break room. Spontaneously discussing your topic will help you to detect gaps in your knowledge, while also building confidence and fluency in your speech patterns.

5. I am in constant fear of forgetting what I prepared to say.

As with the last point, practicing ad nauseum will help mitigate the fear of forgetting. On the day of your speech, bring a list of bullet points for quick reference, or even a full text of your speech. Even more important than a print-out, however, is self care. Get a full night’s sleep and eat a balanced meal prior to your speech. Remember: the brain needs its own preparation to perform.

6. I have trouble falling asleep the night before a speech.

Everyone can remember a night that nerves kept them wide awake. Avoid caffeine, turn off the electronics and do something that relaxes you before bedtime. If you still can’t sleep, take speaker Joel Comm’s advice: “You’re the only one who knows.” You might be a tired, nervous wreck by the time you get to the podium, but project confidence and the audience will be none the wiser.

7. I do poorer on speeches because I am anxious.

Sure, you’re anxious—but you are not the most important aspect of your speech. Your message is. Your audience can only hear what you’re saying, not your anxious inner monologue. Concentrate on conveying the material effectively, even if assuming a bolder, extroverted persona is required to do so.

If you’re really concerned that anxiety will affect your ability to deliver, try getting some exercise the morning before your speech. Enduring physical stress will help your brain handle greater emotional stress later in the day.

8. During an important speech I experience a feeling of helplessness building up inside me.

While it’s easy to feel powerless, control is always in your hands. One helpful strategy is to memorize the first three lines of your speech. That way, getting started–typically the hardest part for most orators–is a no-brainer. By the time you hit the meat of your speech, you’ll already be speaking with ease.

Above all, be gracious with yourself. It’s okay, and even encouraged, to take pauses to inhale deeply, regardless of whether anxiety has begun to rear its ugly head. No speech is ever perfect. But with careful preparation and the right mindset, any bump in the road can become manageable and, thankfully, forgettable.

Ken Sterling

Ken Sterling

Chief Marketing Officer at BigSpeak Speakers’ Bureau
Ken Sterling is the Executive Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at BigSpeak Speaker’s Bureau – a leading keynote and business speakers bureau. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and a MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales and marketing expert.
Ken Sterling
Ken Sterling