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How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is remarkably common. In fact, some experts estimate that as much as 77% of the population has some level of anxiety regarding public speaking. So, why is it such a big issue? Public speaking can trigger fears of rejection, being judged or making a mistake. Humans are a social species. We want to fit in, so standing out and being in the spotlight isn’t a natural state for us.

Facing Your Fear of Public Speaking

When you decide to face your fear of public speaking, it’s important to be very clear about your motivation. When things get tricky and all you want to do is retreat, you need to be able to remind yourself why you’re doing something.

Being able to speak in front of people can elevate your position at work, allow you to be heard and help you stand up for what you believe in. It’s a way of supporting others by sharing your knowledge and skills. The ability to reach more than one person at a time can also increase the impact of your work.

Tackling Limiting Beliefs

Once you’re feeling motivated, the next step is tackling the limiting beliefs that are holding you back. In CBT, the main principle is that our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do, creating the world we live in. Try to become more aware of your thoughts about public speaking. Are they helping or hindering you? How do they make you feel? When a negative or unhelpful thought crops up, interrogate it. Can you make it more flexible? Thoughts aren’t facts, so you should always explore other possibilities. For example:

– I’m rubbish at public speaking vs. I’m not practised, but with practise, I’ll get better

– I’m boring vs. If I focus on giving value, people will find it interesting

– My anxiety will show vs. Anxiety feels bad but is not always visible

– I’m so nervous vs. Nervousness feels the same as excitement

Altering these thoughts can shift how you feel, and with a more helpful thinking style, your behaviour will change.

Public Speaking Tips

Practice – It might seem obvious, but I’m including a reminder to practice because it’s something I have a habit of trying to avoid! I don’t like doing it, but it always improves my delivery. Try recording yourself so you can listen back, practice tricky words or sections and make sure you’re getting the flow just right.

Prepare – When we’re doing something tough, our anxious thoughts can distract us from preparing properly. I’m learning that when I approach what I’m doing by warming up rather than worrying, I get better results. Serena Williams doesn’t just run on the court. Even though she’s done it millions of times, she always warms up before a game.

For public speaking, the best prep includes exercising to get rid of excess adrenaline and cortisol, hydrating and warming up your vocal cords. All these things can have a useful calming effect too.

Breathe – In public speaking, your voice is your most important tool. A simple way to improve your voice is by learning to breathe fully and deeply from your diaphragm. Professional singers use this technique to support their singing voice and help them hold notes long after most people would be out of breath.

Practising diaphragmatic breathing also reduces feelings of breathlessness caused by speech anxiety. Before your speech, place one hand on your abdomen and breathe into your hand. Count to 10 as you inhale and fill your stomach, then count to 10 again as you exhale. Remember to breathe from your diaphragm as you deliver your speech. I always have a prompt in my notes to remind me to take a breath. If I don’t, I notice my voice getting higher and higher which is stressful for me and the poor listener!

Relax – Focus on your upper body, rotating your head, rolling your shoulders and stretching. When we’re nervous about speaking, we can hold a lot of tension in our upper body. Relaxing this area also relaxes your voice.

Be Yourself – Imagine you are talking to a room of friends who are excited to see you do well. This will warm up your presenting style and people will be able to connect with you more. Don’t forget to smile too!

Build Confidence – After you’ve finished speaking, write down what went well and ask your audience for some constructive feedback. Over time, we tend to pick apart our performance and become negative about what we’ve accomplished. Building up evidence of our achievements counteracts this habit and helps build confidence. Gather this evidence as quickly as you can after an event so time doesn’t erode its impact.

Useful Links

Ask the Therapist – Building Confidence in Public Speaking with Coach Kathy Brooke

How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds

Find Your Voice: The Secret to Talking with Confidence in Any Situation

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.