READING TIME: 100 SECONDS.
A lot of people are afraid of public speaking, so much so that fear of public speaking outranks fear of death. And according to a recent article, the only greater fears than public speaking are acrophobia (fear of heights) and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes).
For the most part, it’s pretty easy to avoid looking precariously over the edge of a tall building and to remain in snake-free environments. Public speaking, on the other hand—that’s a different matter altogether.
Public speaking is, on many levels, part of our daily routine. People undertake public speaking at work, networking groups, anniversary parties, church, wedding toasts, and even funerals.
Many people I, Nicholas Boothman, talk to don’t like the idea of public speaking because they feel exposed when they stand in front of an audience and because they believe people are going to scrutinize their every word and action. As a result, they put pressure on themselves to be perfect.
I think these fears are compounded by social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and the rise of the selfie; they make us all that much more self-conscious of what we look like and how we present ourselves to the world.
On the surface, those seem like legitimate fears; after all, I don’t know too many people who like being scrutinized and rejected. And the fear of public speaking is well-documented: as Mark Twain once quipped, “There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” I think Mark Twain is wrong, however. We don’t need to be either; it’s all about perception and what we do with our misplaced feeling of fear.
Far too often, I hear people say you can reduce your anxiety and fear of public speaking by avoiding a few bad habits and replacing them with good habits, as though the person afraid of public speaking hadn’t considered this idea before.
According to a study out of the Harvard Business School, those who fear public speaking would fare better if they forgot all about deep breathing exercises and visualizing a calm ocean or everyone in the audience in their underwear.
Instead, it’s better to take the heart-pounding symptoms of anxiety and reframe them as signs of excitement. That shift helps people translate anxiety-inducing events as an opportunity rather than a threat.
For example, if you’re feeling nervous about tackling a stressful event, say, “I am excited” out loud. Studies show it’s more successful than saying “I am anxious,” or even “I am calm,” and much better than saying nothing at all.
For starters, it’s easier to psych ourselves up for something than it is to calm down. Excitement and anxiety are both states of high arousal, which includes a fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As a result, it’s fairly easy to move between anxiety and excitement.
Trying to calm yourself from an anxious state to one of relaxation takes a change in both a physical feeling and a change from a negative mindset to a positive one. And neither is easy to do, even with experience.
If you want to get better at public speaking, you have to step up to the microphone. That’s the catch-22 of public speaking; the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the easier it becomes, the more self-confidence you’ll have.
Imagine how different your life would be if you stepped out of your comfort zone and seized every public speaking opportunity. There’s no substitute for experience: be brave and take risks.
Brooks, A.W., “Getting Excited Helps with Performance Anxiety More Than Trying to Calm Down, Study Finds,” American Psychological Association web site, December 23, 2013; www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/12/performance-anxiety.aspx.