A while back I wrote an article on how to be a better public speaker. But after an event I was at last week, it’s occurred to me that for many of us, before we can focus on how to be a better speaker, we may have to conquer our abject fear of public speaking. There’s a great Seinfeld quote that summarizes how deep this fear goes, “According to most studies, people’s No. 1 fear is public speaking. No. 2 is death. Death is No. 2. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”
Ha, I love that and it holds truth that touches all of us. When I was in first grade I had to play piano for my class. My hands were literally shaking so violently I couldn’t play. That of course made the entire experience too memorable, in a traumatic way. I carried that memory and bad energy into my next public performance in fourth grade which wasn’t any better. How could it be better with the anxiety that had been building since first grade? So I completely understand the fear of public speaking that most adults have acquired. And OMG, if you have to speak in front of family and friends it’s even worse. I can perform in front of audience of thousands without any hesitation. But if I have to give a toast at a family reunion, I’m still filled with anxiety.
How To Lose Fear of Public Speaking
- First of all – don’t stare at this picture below. I’m a professional performer and speaker and this picture makes my stomach churn…
- Secondly – remember that most of what you’re fearing is fear itself. Try to focus on the work at hand, rather than the general fear. Don’t label yourself with a fear of public speaking. Instead, ask yourself if you’re prepared for whatever speech you have to deliver. Are you comfortable with the subject matter? Have you internalized your content so that you can talk about it without having to memorize every line? Practice the delivery of your content with a friend or partner, preferably over a drink. Simply tell your story and see how that feels. Even a power-point presentation with data is a story. Or at least, it can be a story. Try to make it your story.
- Third thing – Break the ice by being real. Open your speech with something like this, “I’m glad to be here, but scared to death. I have some great information I want to share with everyone but like many of you, I’d rather be in the audience than up here in the spotlight.” I promise if you open with something like that, you’ll hear sympathetic laughter from the audience and you’ll quickly realize you’re talking to a group of people who want to see you succeed.
Unless you’re speaking a lot, you may never completely beat the fear of public speaking. But if you arm yourself with knowledge of your subject matter, remember that it’s okay to share your anxiety with your audience, and acknowledge you’re no Seinfeld, you should be able to be comfortable and even enjoy public speaking.