I’m due to make a presentation about my project, which will be graded. But, I’ve frozen up during presentations before and I’m terrified of making the same mistake. I don’t know why I have such a fear of public speaking when my friends can easily stand in front of a crowd with no issues. How can I overcome this?
First of all, you should know that the fear of public speaking is a very real thing. The prospect of standing in front of a crowd and delivering a speech is a scary one, especially if you are presenting or have to make things up on the spot. This might amount to anything from slight nervousness to paralysing panic. You might find that your hands shake, your voice trembles and your cheeks flush.
You’re not alone. Up to 75% of the global population have a fear of public speaking. According to associate professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at the University of Cincinnati Dr Jeffrey R. Strawn, this is more common in the younger, female segment of the population.
“We know that some individuals tend to have more anxiety related to certain circumstances in which there may be a fear of evaluation and embarrassment,” says Dr. Strawn, who is also director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Programme in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, adds.
Behavioural scientists have come up with a name for this: glossophobia. It is particularly common in individuals with social anxiety — but this doesn’t mean that it’s something you have a disorder of any kind.
“It is important to point out that not all individuals with a fear of public speaking have social anxiety disorder or another psychiatric disorder,” says Dr. Strawn. “For a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, clear functional impairment is generally required.”
What this means is that having a fear of public speaking is very commonly shared by most people in the world. What’s just as likely is that your peers who will be watching you may be battling their own fears of standing in front of a crowd. You might even find that the confident people you’re intimidated by might have had a fear of public speaking at some point in their lives, too.
Overcoming your fear of public speaking
The great news is that getting over your fear of public speaking is completely possible.
As with every strategy to overcome anxiety, the first step is always to shift your mindset. No, we don’t mean a drastic change — merely adjusting your thought process here and there. For example, instead of fearing your upcoming presentation, think about it as an opportunity to practise and get better.
Speak in front of a mirror and pay attention to how you’re speaking. Do you have trouble pronouncing a specific word? Repeat it over and over again until you can master it. Do you feel yourself standing too still or stiffly? Take some deep breaths and consciously relax your limbs. Maybe walk around a little. Soon, you’ll feel a lot more confident in what you’re doing — and be able to present smoothly.
This goes for everything else that might give you anxiety, too. The more you expose yourself to uncomfortable environments, the more comfortable you will become with them.
That being said, there are a few other things you can do to help overcome your fear of public speaking:
- Know your topic inside and out. The more knowledge you have about a topic, the better equipped you will feel to talk about it.
- Write your key points down. It might be helpful to prepare cue cards for you to refer back to, just in case.
- Organise your materials. The better prepared you are for your presentation, the more confident and comfortable you will be when the time comes.
- Practise deep breathing. In moments of panic or anxiety, your breathing might start to spike. Prepare for this possibility ahead of time and learn to regulate your breathing.
- Focus on yourself instead of your audience. You might naturally worry about what your audience is thinking or feeling while you’re making your presentation. However, it’s important to remember that their reactions are out of your control. What you can control, in this sense, is yourself.
If all else fails, remember this golden rule: fake it until you make it. This might seem contradictory or inauthentic, but research shows that embodying confidence when you don’t have any is a surefire way of slowly gaining it over the long term.
You might not be able to approach this presentation with the level of comfort, confidence and certainty you’d want, but with time, patience and practice, you’ll find that public speaking comes to you naturally.