Conquering Your Fear of Public Speaking

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Published on September 26, 2017, at 7:48 p.m.
by Rachel Tomchin

Fear comes in different forms. Whether it’s of snakes, heights or death, it can seem inescapable. However, there are ways to manage these anxieties and techniques to work around them. While many fears are avoidable, public speaking, unfortunately, is not.

Acknowledge the fear
Statistics show 75 percent of Americans suffer from public speaking anxiety to some degree.

“The reason that it’s an anxiety is because when we place ourselves in front of an audience, whether it’s a small group of peers or a larger group of strangers, we’re placing ourselves in a social evaluative situation,” said Dr. Alexa Chilcutt, director of public speaking at The University of Alabama. It is a mind game against yourself — the more you think about it, the more realistic the fear becomes and the anxiety builds.

You may think public speaking comes naturally to those who excel at it, but that is not always the case. Dr. Chilcutt believes it is a skill you must practice in order to succeed, but once you master it, you’ll be more attractive to employers.

Witness success
Sociability and public speaking are two very different skills, the difference being the audience in front of you. Whether or not you are sociable isn’t the problem; it’s being the center of attention that brings this fear upon people.

Relaying a message to an audience is what makes presenting such an anxiety: People are afraid to fail.

However, what you may not realize is that “ your audience wants you to succeed. They don’t want to watch someone who’s awkward and bad and nervous; it’s horrible to watch someone like that,” shared Ann Sheridan, Compass Group’s director of communication.

You can’t be afraid to mess up. The more you think about what you can’t do, the more you forget why you are there in the first place — to deliver a message. Sheridan noted that it is important to be calm, to gather your thoughts and to never go into a speech rushed.

Think perspective

“One of the biggest things that you can do as a public speaker … is stop thinking about it from your perspective and think about it from the audience’s perspective,” said Chilcutt.

Your audience is listening for something informative, something interesting. They aren’t looking to critique your persona and kill your self-esteem, “so, you shift your focus away from yourself and not looking like a fool to making the information interesting and engaging for them,” said Chilcutt.

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Avoid perfection
Prepare but don’t overprepare. Without practice you will never master the skill of public speaking; however, if you practice too much, you can psych yourself out. Memorizing your speech will not make the process easier or more successful. It’s better to memorize your broader speaking points and let the story flow rather than recite it word for word.

“Don’t be afraid to pause or to mess up or to forget … because they are natural. Don’t try to be perfect,” said Sheridan.

Embrace public speaking
Communication is key in all aspects of life: career, personal and social. Whether you are presenting an idea to a board, discussing a vacation with friends or visiting the doctor’s office for a check-up, without proper communication skills, no message can be delivered or understood.

“Whether it’s engineering, PR, journalism or education, everyone has those opportunities, and it really is valuable for them to learn those (public speaking) skills,” said Chilcutt.

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