1. What is Public Speaking Fear?
And what are its causes?
Public Speaking Fear can be paralyzing… Standing in front of a crowd… You probably know the feeling. You can work weeks, learn the materials, prepare the presentation. You try to ignore the anxiety. And then it’s the moment… You go to the stand… Your throat is dry, you begin to stutter… Your brain feels empty.
What is happening to you? This frustrating phenomenon is called Public Speaking Fear.
You are not the only one to suffer from this fear, or phobia. In fact, According to recent studies, about 40 percent of the population, were found to have a serious fear of public speaking. Almost everyone has some degree of fear regarding public speaking.
Whether it is in front of 10 people or a full auditorium, the fear of public speaking seems to affect nearly everyone at one point or another. Even the most professional public speakers can become nervous before an important speech.
This impacts of this anxiety vary from just ‘not being your best’ during the speech,,to not being able to even begin the speech, and in some cases even suffering from horrors and general feeling of incompetence.
Symptoms of this fear might be:
- Rapid heartbeats
- Shaky hands
- Shortness of breath
- Blank mind
- Feel of freezing
- Sweaty hands
Although you might hear and read about various reasons and factor that cause and affect Public Speaking Fear, I will divide the causes of this “fear” into 2 categories: Historically-based and Experience-based.
1.1 Historically-based factors
Imagine human beings in past times, when we used to live in small tribes. Those times encoded in us all kinds of fears, that helped humans survive. A human tribe would include between 30-100 members, usually with a single (male) leader. This leader was vital for the survival of the tribe and used to be the authority. Now imagine that one simple member of the tribe would arrange a speech in front of the tribe. The leader of the tribe would see this as an attempt to gain authority over the tribe. A common penalty for that could be death.
Public speaking used to be extremely dangerous in the past.
This historical reason is considered according to researches as the main reason why we are so afraid of public speaking.
There is a branch of psychology called “Evolutional Psychology”, which discusses matters like this. The most important thing that you should remember is that a major cause for your fear is irrational. You can’t explain it with the terms of our world. Only imagining the world as it was 10,000 years ago carries the real answer.
1.2 Experience-based factors
Now, in addition to the psychological reasons that cause this fear of public speaking, there are of course also factors from you own life that create it.
The way we use language in our life is called “conversation”, because when we speak, we do it with someone else. Our neurological system is so used to having conversations, that we just don’t pay attention to all the internal processes that happen when we’re speaking. Because it’s done automatically, we can focus our whole attention on the conversation itself.
Now, every new and unknown activity that we try to do, will seem intimidating, just because we are not experienced enough. We don’t know how to use our voice. We don’t know how to look at the people, how to stand, how to move our hands. We are even not used to the specific language patterns that we need to use during speech – and there is a different way to use language during a speech.
Another aspect of experience-based causes is a fear, caused by our past experiences. An embarrassing or painful experience while speaking to a group in the past can also create a fear.
So, let’s summarize so far. Public Speaking fear is this negative feeling that causes us not to be at our best during public speaking. It might even prevent us from making the speech at first place. We’ve discussed 2 main reasons for this fear. The first is based on our past as human beings, and that is the reason why we are sometimes so terrified about public speaking. The second reason is based on our own experiences of the world, that also create fears and beliefs.
1.3 Rational and irrational fears
Before moving on to dealing with public speaking fear, we need to understand how to view our fear.
Rational fears are fears that we can explain rationally, and the fear is of something that could cause real harm (physically or emotionally).
In general, examples of rational fears include:
- Dangerous people (a person holding a knife, murderer etc.)
- Dangerous situations (fire, earthquake, floods etc.)
- Dangerous activities (Skiing, walking on a rope etc.)
Now, we can see that fear of some activities is considered rational, because it consists of real danger. Some fears are good to have. The fear itself is something positive, it helps us survive.
Irrational fears, on the other side, are fears that don’t help us survive, but on the contrary, prevent us of being our best.
For example, if we were bitten by a dog once, we might get the fear of dogs for our whole life. If someone frightened us during a dark night, we might get a fear of darkness.
As you can see, our mechanism of fear in not perfect, and we need to do some work to deal with our fears.
Rational fears should be kept and maybe even encouraged. Irrational fears, instead of preventing harm, in many cases can cause us harm. It’s normal to try and overcome irrational fears.
1.4 Is fear of Public Speaking rational or not?
Can public speaking harm you? As we said above, in past times, public speaking could definitely cause you harm. It used to be extremely rational to be afraid. Because this fear was rational for hundreds of thousands of years, it was delivered to us during what we call “Evolutional Psychology”.
Is Public Speaking fear today is still rational? Well, I could give you some hypothetical examples when public speaking could cause harm. If you speak in front of a hostile crowd, it might cause you emotional fear. If you’re a gangster and you try to speak in front of your gang members, you might event have physical harm.
However, in most cases, public speaking is completely harmless. There is no rational reason to be afraid of speaking in front of your class members; and what about presenting your new product in front of your clients?
Therefore, in today’s world, Public Speaking is completely irrational.
2. In short, How to overcome the fear?
In order to overcome the fear of public speaking, it’s vital to understand, remember, and believe, that the fear is irrational.
In this manual, we will discuss 2 approaches to overcoming the fear:
Subconscious– working on the processes that happen in our brain that we are not aware of, our belief system, etc. Those methods are meant to reduce or even completely abolish the fear.
Techniques– Specific techniques and methods to help you with public speaking, even if you still have the fear.
To tell the truth, if you just use techniques, get more experience, try to find the confidence and so – you will get better. You will desensitize your fear. However, every time, before a speech, you will still feel the fear. It will be weaker, but it will be always there.
Imagine that your mind is a computer. A very complicated one, but yet a computer. It runs so many programs that we just can’t count. Some of them are in our awareness – they are conscious processes. The rest, most of the processes, are out of our awareness – they are subconscious processes.
Now, when you go public speaking, there are 2 opposite processes in your head. The first one is positive, and tells you : “Go, give a speech”, and the second one is negative, it tells you “No, you cant”.
Working to eliminate the fear, can be done! It can be done using methods to eliminate fear. Because it’s a subconscious process (unless you consciously choose to be afraid…), it involves dealing with your subconscious mind.
In the next chapter, I’ll discuss the common methods. They include: Hypnosis, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming) and working on you belief system.
The other way, that will not eliminate the fear but will help you deal with it, is using learning techniques. It works on the positive side, I makes you better in public speaking, and therefore deal better with the fear. I will never eliminate the fear, but it will make it easier to do public speaking.
Personally, I recommend that you use it in addition to working on the subconscious side. Just learning the techniques will never make you speak at your best, and every speech will continue to be an effort.
3. Working on your subconscious mind
3.1 Using NLP Techniques
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a behavioral technology, a set of guiding principles, attitudes, and techniques about real-life behavior.
It allows you to change, adopt or eliminate behaviors, as you desire, and gives you the ability to choose your mental, emotional, and physical states of well-being.
I will not tell you here too much about NLP, because it’s a complete theory. Personally, I prefer NLP to work on subconscious processes, mainly because unlike other methods that I will discuss in the book, NLP can be learned and used by almost everyone. There is no need to understand psychology or medicine.
According to NLP, our mind is in some way like a computer. It has all kinds of programs running. Although many of them are unconscious (fear, for example), it teaches us methods to eliminate or at least weaken those processes, if we want to.
What are these processes? Our mind works with 3 senses (we actualy have 5, but only 3 of them are really important) – visual (eyes), auditory (ears), or kinesthetic (feelings). Every person primarily uses just one of the 3 during processes.
Some people are visual – they see the world through their eyes. Others are auditory, they mainly use their ears to hear voices. And other people are mainly kinesthetic, they understand the world through feelings.
For example, if you are a visual person, this means that you see the world mainly through your eyes. Therefore, there is a visual process (or processes) that create the fear of public speaking inside you.
Now, I’ll tell you a quick story about a friend of mine. He used to have a serious fear of public speaking. His hands would shake, his voice would change, his heart beat would skyrocket. When I tried to check with him what caused the fear, he told me that he would visualize himself giving a bad speech.
In those visual pictures, he saw people laughing at him, He saw himself standing without remembering what to say, etc. He couldn’t control those pictures. He couldn’t make them disappear.
What is happening? His mind is kind of “screening” a movie in his head. Do you remember a really scary movie that you saw? There were moments in that movie that you really felt afraid? Even though it was just a movie and you knew it was just a movie?
The same thing happened with my friend. What created the fear was the movie, the pictures. Our subconscious mind reacts the same way whether the movie is a reality or not.
Traditional psychology tries to find the “roots” of the fear. It tries to see what past effects created it. Instead, NLP provides an easy and short treatment. As we discussed in the first chapter, the reason might be even in our past as humans, so we can’t eliminate the root.
So, let’s see how we deal with our fear.
For visual people
If you’re a visual person, you probably have a movie running in your head. Try to understand what exact movie you see:
– is it black and white? Or do you see colors?
– is it smooth or not?
– is it going in slow motion, or quickly?
– do you see it in details?
– do you see it from a first position or third position?
Let’s go back to my friend’s example:
He used to see himself making a speech, and he saw people in the crowd laughing. he saw himself embarrassed…
Now, I asked him to sit silently in front of me, and we began understanding together what exactly he saw.
When he saw himself standing and giving a speech, it was from his own eyes, what we call “1st position”. He saw it black and white, and in great detail. He could see faces in the crowd; he could exactly understand what was happening.
When you see this movie running again and again in your head, your mind creates a great fear. Like a movie, even if you know it’s just a movie, it still creates the same effect.
A great basis in NLP is that you can’t fight your thought. You can’t just say: “No! I’m not afraid”. Your mind won’t accept it and you will continue seeing the movie.
However, what you can do is to make changes in the movie, add effects, even change angles. It might sound fantasy to you, but it’s possible.
So, what I did next is that I told him to change the movie into a 3rd position. I told him to see the movie as if he was standing near the scene, from the side.
That way, he was seeing himself there, and he saw the crowd. Now, I told him to make the movie a bit in a distance from him, As if he sees it on a television. I told him to begin moving the movie away from him, so that this “television” looks far away from him. Now, he saw himself somewhere in a great distance. He couldn’t see details anymore, because the picture was so far…
Do you understand what we did here? We can’t fight the movie, but we can do manipulations. Now, the movie was much less frightening. Almost like some pale thought…
The next time he was about to do a public speech, I told him this process again. After a few times, this movie didn’t disturb him anymore. The fear was almost gone.
When he now goes to speak, he can concentrate on the words, on the message. The fear is gone.
For visual people, NLP gives us a quick solution, and that is to make the visual process less dominant and less clear. Make it something in the distance that doesn’t bother you.
What if you are Auditory?
For auditory people
So, now that we understand how to deal with public speaking fear for visual people, you may ask the question – what if I’m an auditory person?
Well, for auditory people, we need to weaken the auditory process that creates the fear. What is that auditory process? It’s usually a sound or a voice. For example, you might be telling yourself: “No, I can’t do that…” or “Those people are going to laugh at me…”, or you might hear the people laughing, or shouting at you.
We can’t make the sound “smaller” as we did with the visual process, but we still can make it weaker. There are a few options. The one I will discuss here is making some differences in the voice: Instead of hearing it in its regular way, make it sound funny. Give it a childish voice, for example. I also like giving it a sex-flirting voice.
When you convert the voice to a different way, it doesn’t sound frightening anymore. On the contrary, you might find yourself laughing and smiling instead! Try this now, make a serious, frightening voice inside you, sound funny, childish or sexy.
How can you learn more of NLP
We only discussed some examples of using NLP to overcome fear. There are of course some more ways – for example, you can add effects to your internal movies, you can add background music and whatever you find useful in overcoming those internal processes that create your fear.
However, NLP can be used in many other ways and techniques to really improve you skills. You can become a better communicator, better lover, increase you income, be more efficient. It’s a set of techniques and methods to improve your life in general, and allow you to control your mind effectively.
If we are discussing Public Speaking, you can use NLP to make you message more clear, understood and acceptable by people.
NLP was created in the recent decades, and it’s still under development. I personally suggest that you find time to learn more of it. You can check our page to discover how we suggest to learn NLP.
3.2 Belief Systems
In many cases, our fear is caused by our belief system. Belief is stronger than knowledge, and our perception of the world is actually created according to our belief system.
Belief is usually something we can’t really prove. Belief in god is a good example, but almost all beliefs we have in life are not absolute.
There are certain beliefs that we can’t prove they are true or not. However, we CAN tell if they benefit us or not – or whether they help you achieve your goals.
When regarding Public Speaking Fear, there are a few a beliefs that might cause the fear. According to studies, the most common belief that directly causes the fear is the following:
Limiting Belief- “It is normal to have a fear or anxiety of Public Speaking”.
Think to yourself… Do you accept this? Do you believe that it’s normal, that it’s OK to have a fear of public speaking?
You probably do.
Why? Probably because of your own experience, because that is what society teaches.
However – are you sure it’s “Normal” to be afraid? Why? It’s just your belief. And that belief is actually causing the fear – because you kind of expect it.
It will be much more empowering to change this belief. Instead, you should understand that there is nothing “Normal” in public speaking fear. You know it’s an irrational fear. Nothing is Normal here.
Empowering Belief- “Public speaking makes me feel relaxed and energetic”.
Do you understand how changing your belief changes the way you respond and view life? Instead of believing that you are supposed to be afraid – you choose an empowering belief.
Is this empowering belief “True”? Many people around the world don’t have any fear of public speaking. Instead – they enjoy it. You can choose what to believe. I personally recommend you to choose the empowering one.
Here are some more beliefs that you should consider loosing:
“It’s good to be nervous”- What the hell? Why is that good? It’s good to be relaxed. That’s a totally limiting belief.
“Public Speaking is something you are born with, or not”- A terrible belief that unfortunately many people possess, not only regarding public speaking. Almost every skill can be learnt and improved. This belief only prevents you from improving. Nobody was born as a public speaker.
“Public speaking fear is something you can’t overcome”-I can give you so many live examples (including me) of people who successfully overcame public speaking fear.
“Your audience wants you to fail”- On the contrary, because most of the people are afraid to death of public speaking and many of them have tried it before, they will only appreciate your “courage” to stand and speak. People came to hear you – they want you to succeed.
A great way to succeed in life is by building an empowering belief system. The secret is understanding that you can CHOOSE what to believe. If this makes you feel interested, I suggest that you read my articles regarding belief systems.
Hypnosis is considered a powerful tool to help with overcoming fears. It works directly with the subconscious mind, making the right “changes” to teach your mind not to be afraid.
Hypnosis can be done either with a therapist, or as it becomes common today, using an audio or a video that makes a similar job.
Hypnosis can be a good tool, but the problem that I have with Hypnosis is the fact that you don’t really know and can’t control over what the treatment is about.
Unlike NLP, you can’t do it alone and you can’t choose and decide what exact treatment to make.
On the other hand, you can feel free and not really care about learning and mastering technique. You just get the treatment, never care what it really does. If it works – you don’t have the fear anymore. For some people – this is the perfect solution.
If that sounds and feels good for you, you can check my review of available products (some of them are totally free).
4. External work – dealing with the fear effectively
In the previous chapter, discussed methods how to overcome and eliminate fear of public speaking.
Therefore, there is no use for this chapter, is there? Well, maybe there is…
- Even If you use the techniques we discussed (As I said, I recommend NLP), you might still have some public speaking fear.
- Many people can’t accept the fact that self-work can eliminate fear. I don’t agree, but I can honor their belief. If you believe that the way to make achievements is via hard work, then I accept that and will show you ways to practice in order to deal with the fear.
In this chapter, I will give you tips to quickly help you dealing with the fear. I will divide them into 2 categories: What to do before the speech; and what to do during the speech.
Remember – Practice makes Perfect. As you implement what I tell you here, you’ll improve, sometimes even rather rapidly. However – You Still Need Practice.
Unlike other guides, I will not give you a full list of tips. No one can’t use so many. Just the best ones.
4.1 What to do before the speech
You don’t have to be perfect
People are afraid of public speaking because they fear of mistakes during the speech. However, anxiety over mistakes only makes it more likely that mistakes will occur.
The best way to deal with mistakes is to accecpt the fact that youare not perfect, and mistakes are supposed to happen. Now, instead of being afraid, you can use mistakes to get feedback for future improvement.
Visualize the positive outcome
A good reason for which we are so anxious before the speech is because we visualize the speech, presuming that something terrible will happen. We may even do this subconsciously.
So, a good way to deal with our anxiety is to visualize the speech, this time in a positive way. Imagine the moments before the speech, how you feel secure and prepared. How you move slowly toward the podium. How you begin the speech. Try to hear your own words.
Visualizing will work on you internal fears and signal to your brain that everything is under control.
Put the past behind
Some people have speech anxiety because of past events. It could be even some humiliating event in the past. The way to deal with such incidents is the following:
If you can learn from it and improve – do it. If you can’t, just forget about it and focus on the future.
Use mistakes to learn and improve, not to increase your fears.
Practice your voice and tonality
Speaking involves using your voice. If you use your voice and practice it before the speech, you will be used to speaking and will feel more confident about how your voice sounds.
Don’t write a speech
One of the worst things you could do is to write a full speech. It will make you concentrated on the written words instead of on the speech.
Instead – only write highlights, know what your speech is about and what your main messages are.
This way, the page you are holding will only be a guidance, and you will be concentrated on the speech.
4.2 What to do during the speech
Remember to breath
Anxiety tightens the muscles in the chest and throat. With a restricted airway and without enough oxygen, your voice can come out as a squeak. Deep breathing, on the other hand, sends oxygen to the lungs and brain and expands the throat and chest, promoting relaxation. As you approach the platform, take a deep breath and relax. It will also improve your thinking processes. During the speech, whenever you feel anxious – remember to take a deep breath – It will immediately make you calmer.
Focus on friendly faces
During the speech, you might look at the crowd and see them as a large group of people. That may confuse you. Instead, focus on specific faces, you should prefer the friendly ones. This way your subconscious mind will feel as if you are having a conversation with a specific person. During the speech, move your eyes slowly and look at different people. It will also make the audience feel that you are talking with them instead of just giving a speech
Making a stop sounds something hard to do? You stop speaking, making a silent pause.
That is just great! It makes you look relaxed and confident, and gives you time to relax and remember exactly what you wanted to say.
Speaking quickly and swallowing words is a mistake done by many speakers. It might be because you want to finish your words and have it all over fast. It might also be because you don’t want to be interrupted by the crowed if there is a pause. Your quick heart bit is also a factor.
Anyway – speaking rapidly just makes you more anxious and gives you less time to think. Just speak S-L-O-W-L-Y. Relax, give yourself the time.
5. What to do next?
In this article, I gave you the reasons and factors that cause your Public Speaking Anxiety. I showed you the options available to deal with it.
We discussed methods to eliminate or at least weaken the fear and anxiety that are created in our subconscious mind.
To eliminate fear, I personally suggest that you learn NLP. That is a set of techniques and skills to work on your mind and develop excellence. It also gives you control and full understanding of what you are doing (Unlike psychological treatment or hypnosis).
I gave you the basics of how to use NLP to eliminate your fears. To be really perfect and find many more techniques – I suggest that you learn and master NLP.
In addition, we discussed belief systems and hypnosis.
For those of us who prefer the “hard work”, I gave my tips on what to do before and during the speech to effectively deal with you anxiety.
If you want more guidance, I personally recommend you a book that was written by Benjamin van Spijck. It’s called “Overcoming the fear of public speaking”. It’s written as a 21-days tutorial and will guide you step-by-step to eliminate the fear.
I wish you all the best, hope that you find the way to get rid of this frustrating feeling of fear and anxiety forever.