Tackling my Fear of Public Speaking

tackling my fear of public speaking
Does the thought of giving a speech fill you with instant dread?

I’m going to be giving a speech tomorrow at my fiancés Mum’s wedding. To some people, this might not be that big of a deal, but to everyone else – including me – it induces a lot of nervous panics. After all, I have a fear of public speaking. This is not entirely surprising, especially when you consider the fact that public speaking is one of the most common fears in the world.

Just say no to any form of public speaking?

Now, although I wouldn’t class myself as a person of low confidence, I definitely have nerves about doing this.

I didn’t want to turn it down and say no for two main reasons:

  • Firstly, if you’re asked to give a speech at a wedding it’s considered an honour. I want to be able to do it with confidence for the newly married couple.
  • Secondly, there’s going to be another point in my life when I’m asked, or at least expected, to give a speech (my own wedding for one which is happening next year!). What am I going to do – turn down every single opportunity of this? I mean yes, that is genuinely an option, but that’s not something I want to do. It’s certainly not something that’s going to help me with my lifelong improvement. I want to conquer this fear of public speaking, or at least tackle it when I have an opportunity to do so.

The speech I’ll be giving

I’m not going to be giving a speech that I’ve come up with myself. Yes, I will be improvising a few things here and there but I will just wing it on the day and say what I think is best at the time. The main basis of my speech will be the reading of a passage from the bible. This suggestion actually came from the minister who recommended that someone close to the family read something out. I’m certainly not religious in any way, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do this. I’ve also never read the bible, so when I first saw what I’ll be reading out, it was like a foreign language to me.

1 Corinthians 13 is what I’m going to be reading. It’s the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Bible (whatever that means). Authored by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes in Ephesus. This chapter covers the subject of love – which is why it is so popular with weddings. I’ve since discovered that it’s one of the most commonly read passages at weddings.

Why do I get nervous when it comes to public speaking?

Fun fact – Glossophobia is the term used to describe the fear of public speaking. I only just learned this today. In fact, stage fright can be linked as a symptom to glossophobia!

I think the main reason I get nervous is due to lack of experience. There’s only been a small handful of times when I’ve actually had to stand up in front of an audience and speak to them. I remember in my school days we would occasionally have to prepare and present solo talks in front of our class. Those were some serious nerve-wracking times! It comes back to the whole ‘experience builds confidence’ thing. This is the exact reason why I should be putting myself out there and attempting to do my best when I have an opportunity to do so.

How can I expect to lessen my nerves and improve at something like public speaking if I don’t actually do it? Walk the walk and (excuse the pun) talk the talk, so to speak.

What am I doing to tackle these nerves?

Practice, practice, practice.

As is always the case, practice makes perfect. There’s a reason it’s so commonly said whenever it comes to improving at anything. You can’t improve without practice.

Last night I practised my speech twice at home in front of my Mum, my fiancé and our two cats. Our cats didn’t want to feel left out!

I also practised myself in front of a mirror, making sure my delivery and pacing were as perfect as could be. This morning, on the way to work in my car, I was practising my speech. I was making sure to only glance down at look at my speech printout when necessary. Practising when driving was actually really helpful because you obviously always need to be looking up, so it forces you to stop relying on your notes. It also made a change from simply listening to the radio.

I plan to practice my speech again tonight to whoever is willing to listen. Hopefully, my cats will once again be willing to lend their ears.

Useful things to keep in mind

The importance of your physical presence

A few years back I was looking for ways to really nail a job interview. That search led me deep through many pages of Google and Reddit. One of the most useful things I found was a Ted Talk by this woman named Amy Cuddy. She discussed how altering your physical presence can affect your mental state – including your levels of confidence. There is a lot of debate on whether this is purely a placebo effect, but in my opinion, so what if it is!?

It certainly helped improve my levels of confidence, so much so that I nailed the job interview and got the job offered to me. I’m not saying this is all down to this one technique, but it definitely helped me feel more confident and in control during the interview.

I highly recommend checking it out and giving the technique a go the next time you have an opportunity to do so. I’m certainly going to try and involve these techniques – before and during – my speech tomorrow.

Never speak to a “group of people”, speak to the individuals

I originally learnt this tip from a work communication course I attended in 2016.

The advice given was to look at one person at a time when giving a speech – never the group as a whole. If you look at the whole group of people in front of you, then the chances are you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, focus on one person at a time, and really look at them. Then move on to someone else.

I’ve more recently heard this exact same advice from the legend that is Jordan Peterson. Check out this video to see exactly what I’m getting at in more detail.

Remembering to eat!

Something else that’s vitally important, but likely overlooked, is the importance of eating.

Do you know that anxiety levels have been shown to rise in people that don’t eat anything substantial? I’m not sure about you, but I would want my anxiety to be as low as possible before and during a speech. Combining “not having eaten” with “presenting a speech” is not an ideal combination. Not only will your stomach be growling at you because it’s wondering where the food is at (which would be a distraction), but your energy levels will be low. Being low on energy when speaking in front of people cannot be a good thing.

Funnily enough, this is something else that Jordan Peterson has mentioned in this video.

My final thoughts

Now all that remains is for me to get up tomorrow and give my speech. Hopefully, this is the start of me killing my fear of public speaking. I’m still feeling nervous, so I’m going to do more practice tonight. To everyone else out there that has a speech coming up – I wish you the best of luck!

Try viewing a speech as an opportunity to improve yourself. Don’t ask “what’s the worst that could happen if I do this?”, instead, ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen if I don’t do this?”

That answer is going to be different for everyone, but there is a strong possibility that you will miss out on certain opportunities if you let your fear of public speaking get in the way.

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