The fear of public speaking and how to overcome it | by Mira Ristovich

Mira RistovichGlossophobia, commonly referred to as speech anxiety, has been identified by mental health organisations as one of the most common phobias today. History suggests today’s generations are not the first to suffer from this terrifying phobia. Human evolutionary psychologists connect this fear to prehistoric roots. Our ancestors lived in groups to ensure survival against the elements, large animals and opposing groups. Failure to inspire and build trust among the group would often lead to isolation or death. Speaking in public, therefore, carried with it the fear that if you got it wrong you would be ostracised from your community, which would likely be fatal.

But, while corporate environments can be competitive, potential death is a highly unlikely consequence of a bad speech.

However, our past is evidently wired into our DNA. For many public speaking still invokes fear of judgment and rejection. Most people today are scared that what they have to say is of low quality or importance and that the likely response from their audience will be rejection. What’s worse is that those living in fear assume their anxiety is obvious to their audience, which causes a vicious loop of amplifying their anxiety.

So, if this fear is rooted in our DNA, is there really anything we can do to overcome it? The answer is, absolutely. 

I suggest actively implementing the following seven steps in your preparation routine. The results I’ve found are improved self-confidence and the excitement to have an audience rather than fear of one.

  1. The first rule when you start preparing for a speech, or any meeting, is to understand that your speech is about your audience, not you. Best put by bestselling author Seth Godin, “You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged”. So, make sure your speech solves the problems of your audience.
  2. Keep it simple. Your speech should have no more than a few main themes. Your material should be organised in the most effective manner to share your message.
  3. Smile. Demonstrate you want to be there and are having fun. This will often feed into your audience having publicspeakmore fun, which should help your confidence.
  4. Powerful introductions and conclusions. The art of storytelling is powerful and easy to follow. Try opening your speech with a relevant anecdote or quotation and make sure your conclusion is a strong summary statement that your audience is sure to remember.
  5. Do not read. Prepare your speech as a story. This is not only critical to ensure that you do not lose your audience and to help you remember your main themes without looking at a script.
  6. Know your speech. Good preparation is crucial, and even then, you are not guaranteed a successful execution of your speech. Dale Carnegie summarised the need for preparation like this: “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave”. So, while preparation is key, don’t be hard on yourself if you made some mistakes.
  7. Maintain eye contact to engage your audience and to gauge how they are reacting to your speech. I treat this as a status checkpoint, and you’ll know if you need to adjust.

Becoming more confident in public speaking is a journey, and one worth taking.

I hope these seven steps help you transform and conquer your fear of public speaking. An influential speech is an enormously rewarding experience. Lastly, be encouraged that you’re not the first nor last on this fear-conquering journey.

Mira Ristovich is a senior associate at Bespoke CfSD Group Africa, with over 30 years of experience as an economist as well as highly skilled procurement professional - www.bespoke.co.za 

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Posted on June 21, 2019

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