We talk a lot about a fear of public speaking, and there’s good reason for that: A significant number of the people we work with have glossophobia. In fact, the majority of Americans—anywhere from 75 to 95 percent—admit to being afraid of speaking in public. These are real fear of public speaking facts!
Hold on. Ninety-five percent? That’s nearly ALL Americans. Can there really be so many people paralyzed with fear by something as ordinary as talking to other people? What about all of the actors, singers, politicians, and teachers out there? Collectively they must make up more than five percent of the population!
The truth is, a lot of the people who think they fear public speaking aren’t afraid of it at all. What they really suffer from is stage fright.
What is Stage Fright?
Stage fright or performance anxiety is the fear a person feels when he is required to perform in some way. And of course, the most common “performance” that triggers stage fright is public speaking.
But did you know that there are people who perform all the time who suffer from stage fright? Singer Adele has openly admitted that her stage fright has on more than one occasion caused her to throw up. And she’s not the only one: Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson, Barbara Streisand, Cher, and actress Megan Fox have all publicly acknowledged their stage fright.
But having stage fright doesn’t necessarily mean you have a fear of public speaking. It’s the anticipation of the performance, not the act itself, that paralyzes people with fear.
Separate your fear
So what can you do? If public speaking is what triggers your stage fright, can the two be separated so you can go on to deliver a presentation confidently?
The answer is a resounding yes! Here’s how to overcome fear of public speaking:
Accept the fear. Once you recognize that your fear is directly linked to delivering the presentation (not the presentation itself), accept it as a part of the process. Don’t bother trying to tell yourself that you shouldn’t be nervous—it won’t work. If you expect to be nervous, you can prepare your presentation and choose a delivery method accordingly. But whatever you do, don’t open by telling your audience that you’re nervous. (Most of the time, they won’t even know unless you tell them!)
Put that adrenalin to work. Does your heart race at the thought of having to stand up and talk in front of a group? That’s your adrenaline kicking in, and it’s a wonderful thing! Think of it this way: Your heart races the same way when you’re excited about something, too. Adrenaline is your body’s natural way to gearing up. It’s a jolt of energy and you can let it cripple you, or you can use it to inject energy into your presentation. I suggest the latter.
Rationalize the situation. Fear is part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to a threat. Remember when I said adrenaline is jolt of energy? If you were put in a dangerous situation, adrenaline is what would give you the energy to run away or fight for safety. But let’s be honest: Your quarterly report to the board of directors is NOT a life-or-death situation. Even if you were to stammer and completely fumble the presentation, the only death you’d suffer would be figuratively. It’s okay to be nervous, but remind yourself that you won’t die!
Go Easy on Yourself. Like most people, you invest time in preparing for your presentation so that you do it well. After all, who goes into a presentation with the intent of bumbling through their notes and boring their audience? But here’s the thing: You can’t anticipate every outcome, nor can you plan for things that are out of your control. Yes, you should absolutely practice with your Powerpoint so your slides are in order and your equipment is operating properly, but things may happen that are out of your control. If you insist your presentation has to be perfect, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Aim for excellence, not perfection.
Do It Often. Take every opportunity to talk in front of a group, even if it’s something as simple as introducing yourself and giving a brief description of what you do. The more times you face your stage fright, the more you’ll see it can be mitigated, if not completely overcome.
If you let stage fright stand in the way of your potential to become a powerful public speaker, lost opportunities will follow. Cut yourself some slack and embrace your fear so you can use it to your advantage. For more public speaking tips, visit the Resources section of our Website.