The 10 Biggest Public Speaking Phobias And How To Overcome Them

Stage Fright

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Whether you are an old hat at getting up in front of an audience, or stone cold terrified of speaking into a mic, one thing is certain: We all have at least one thing that sends chills of fear down our collective spinal cords.Regardless of where your fear resides, the most important step to overcoming said fear is to NAME IT and get it out into the sunlight. 

And once you’ve named them, it’s time to do the work of dealing with them.

Drum roll please… the Top 10 Public Speaking Fears REVEALED! 

My voice shakes / I become breathless.

I forget what I'm going to say.

I have a technical glitch and my demo/ppt/video doesn't work.

I get a heckler.

No one laughs at my jokes / The audience is flat and unengaged.

This is a really tough one, especially for people who are used to winning over an audience quickly with their sense of humour. Word to the wise -- don't hinge your momentum on whether or not someone laughs at a joke. Remember, you cannot control what an audience finds funny, so why base your success or comfort level on something you cannot control? Sometimes our ears play tricks on us, and a joke we thought fell flat actually got a few chuckles, but we were too hopped up on adrenaline to hear it.

What you can control is whether the content meets the audience's needs for information, or insights. If you are 100% devoted to developing a presentation or speech that puts the audience FIRST, you won't be so reliant on jokes to warm them up. You'll be focused on designing content that is a) interesting b) memorable and c) actionable and useful. If you decide to slide a joke in here or there, because that is how you roll, then by all means do it! But it is hardly the emphasis, and your self esteem is not attached to it.

Occasionally, even if you've done everything right, you still get a cold kettle of fish staring back at you from the audience. Here is the best tip I can give you: Get them talking. It could be that you've missed something critical about what they need. It could be any number of things. But one thing we know about adult learning is this: Adults often learn best by talking about their own experiences. So whatever it is you're presenting, build in some opportunities for discussion. Prepare 3-5 questions ahead of time, and if it's a huge group, ask for a show of hands vs. asking someone to bravely answer a question in front of 1500 people. Even just that limited amount of exchange between speaker and listener can warm up even the coldest crowd.

The audience doesn't understand what I'm presenting.

People will think I'm not qualified to be on stage/leading the discussion/weighing in with my opinion.

I speed through my presentation, and do 20 minutes worth of content in 10 minutes. Or, I go too slowly, and run wayyy too long.

The good news is that this is 100% under your control. If this is a legitimate fear of yours, get VERY clear about which camp you and your content are likely to fall into.

Essentially, pace and timing are affected by two things:

A) The appropriateness of the content. In other words, have you tried to throw everything plus the kitchen sink in because you're too close to it to know the difference? Or, have you glossed over too many concepts without adequately walking through examples?

B) The pace of your delivery. This is really a matter of practice + self awareness, and I cannot recommend highly enough standing in front of a Flip Camera or even a mirror to get a good sense of your own ideal rhythm.

My two favourite examples of speakers that have mastered the art of timing, pace, and delivering the perfect level of detail are Steve Jobs and Daniel Pink.

Here is Steve Jobs talking to Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg on stage at All Things D. Note how slowly he speaks, and how economic he is with his word choices. He is comfortable with pausing, and with using plain language to communicate his thoughts.

Here is Daniel Pink delivering a TED talk based on his latest book Drive. He does a beautiful job of modulating his pace, using humour, and presenting visually at just the right moments.

Bottom line? Your rhythm and pace are unique unto you, and it's a matter of settling on what is most authentically you, and what most suits an audience's need to learn. This is a key dimension to cultivating your public speaking skills, so devote some time to noticing where you are, and where you want to go.

Someone asks me a question that I don't know the answer to.

I sweat through my clothing/my face turns beat red/my body somehow betrays me.

This is a fear that grips so many of us, and the real problem isn't the bodily issue itself, it's the shame that accompanies it. Maybe it goes back to some primordial need to alpha dog our fellow cave people, and by sweating, or blushing, we reveal our fear. Whatever it is, it can derail a presenter in no time flat. It tears down confidence, and triggers that nasty Fight or Flight reaction we spoke of earlier.

Here's what I recommend: Identify your biggest issue. If you are a chronically heavy sweater, just own it. You now know how to focus on your breath, and come back to the present moment (see fear #10), thereby arresting any mental spin outs/shame spirals. But as a backup plan, wear something that doesn't accentuate sweaty arm pits. Dark suit jackets usually work the best. And you know what? If you have big pit marks, but you are nailing your presentation, people will forgive you.

If you are a blusher or a face/neck splotcher, it's not quite as simple as choosing a dark suit (although when this used to be a problem for me, I would opt for turtle necks whenever possible!). What you can do is begin noticing what issues/questions trigger your blushing. Go into observation mode.

Practice answering and responding to the questions that typically trigger blushing. Is it when someone questions your credibility? Practice the heckling advice described in Fear #7. Really work through these issues, and they will losen their grip on you. I know of which I speak -- I was a chronic neck splotcher, and it was almost ALWAYS triggered by someone questioning my credibility -- Hello Imposter Syndrome!

The beginning of successfully dismantling our fears is to name them and get them out into the open. You may not work through your fears overnight, but I can guarantee that if you bring mindfulness and presence to this work, the results will speak for themselves.

Still a mess? Take some tips from these masters of public speaking...

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