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Friday, June 20, 2014

Fear of Public Speaking

Let’s start by first asking ourselves the most important question, “What is public speaking?” Does public speaking mean only addressing gatherings of a hundred people and nothing less?

No, and herein lies our first misunderstanding.

Public speaking is simply the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner. It is  intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. Hence it can mean speaking to twenty people or hundred people, whatever the case may be. The important point here is that in public speaking we share our opinions, views, ideas with an audience.
So where does the problem lie? Why is public speaking the most common fear of people, second only to death? 

From my experiences of interacting with people, I have gathered that one of the most important reasons of this fear is that we are worried about being judged negatively or criticized. As in most of our other endeavors in life here too we are most concerned of what others will think about us. “If I forget, will they laugh at me?  Will I disappoint those people who know me well and expect a lot? Will they be interested in what I say?”
The fear is all about ME. What if I choke, what if I mess up, what if I don’t remember.   Me  me  me.  When we are nervous, it is because we are worried about ourselves. I will mess up. I will lose my train of thought. I will look like a moron. I will be boring. Me me me.
But the minute it stops being about “me” and starts being about the content and the audience the better you will feel. What we do end up forgetting is that the only way we can give a good speech or be a good speaker is when we stop thinking about others and instead enjoy the process of voicing ones thoughts. It is important for us to realize that the more we think about others, the more keyed up we get and the result is that we either forget what we had to say or talk in order to get over with the whole thing. We should never try to understand whether our audience likes our talk or is waiting for it to get over, while giving a speech. Looks can be deceptive they say!! We should just enjoy the whole process of talking before an audience, and that itself will take care of the rest. The more relaxed you are, the more your audience will enjoy what you speak.    
There are a number of tips available across the net, about how to handle your fear of public speaking, but the most effective tip that I feel and know from experience is to just practice, be confident and then relax. The more you practice, the more confident you will be. Also remember that your audience doesn’t know the full content of your speech. So even if you forget they will never realize it until and unless you stop or start stammering. Never just blindly learn the content of your talk. Always understand it so that you do not have to keep getting worried about forgetting a line or a word and it will also help in having an interactive session with the audience rather than a long monologue.
The following are some useful questions and answers which might help you to overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. How can I relax while giving a speech?

One great tip is to take very deep breathes just prior to taking your place at the podium. This relaxes your body, helping your blood pressure to lower and your mind to clear.
Another trick is to pretend that you are all alone in front of a mirror.
Nothing can beat being prepared for your speech. The more comfortable you are with your speech, the better that you will do.
2. What is the best way to prepare for my speech?
Try practicing the speech in front of friends and family first, before the "actual" speech.
Make sure that your note cards are very easy to read. (The large note cards are the best choice. You can even get colored cards now in any office supply store.)
Use colored markers to highlight the main points of your speech.
 3. What is the best way to practice for a speech?
I mentioned it above. A mirror can be very useful. Say your speech into the mirror, noticing what each hand and face is doing at all times.
Practice the words in your head over and over again.
Pretend that you are there, in front of the audience.
4. What can I do if I lose my place and get all flustered?
The best advice is to be prepared, but even the most prepared person sometimes loses his or her place.
If this happens, glance down at your cards. Look for the bright color of the next topic, and move on.
Take a deep breath and smile. Your audience is probably completely unaware of the problem.
Adlibbing can be both helpful and also very dangerous when giving a speech. If your speech is timed, this may become a problem. Adlibbing can help to get your out of a sticky situation, though.
Quickly get to the next main point if you lose your place as smoothly as you can.
5. I am too nervous to have good eye contact. What can I do to help?
Find a person near the middle of the crowd whom  you know or have a friendly relationship with . Look at this person, but be sure to also look around to the other ends of the room as well .
When you look in other places, though, you can maybe look just above them. This may help. Later, you will be more comfortable with this, and learn to look into the eyes of the audience.
6. My gestures look forced, should I leave my hands at my side. This makes me even more nervous. How can I have relaxed gestures?
Speak to the crowd in a conversational tone. This can take practice, but helps immensely with your gestures.
Try to NOT think about your hands.
If you play with buttons or put your hands in your pockets, try to NOT wear clothes with pockets or buttons. Putting your hands in your pockets is a big distraction to your listeners that you should avoid at all costs!
If none of these works, try keeping your hands at your side, and pinching your index finger and thumb together tightly. This should help to remind you not to pick at your clothes. 

Hopefully this article will help those of you who have faced inhibitions before speaking before an audience to overcome them and emerge a better speaker.


  1. A crisp useful post... The key point as you stated in the beginning is to focus on others & what they will get instead of on "me".

    1. Yes,Rajeev, we need to be less inhibited- look outwards rather than inwards...:)

  2. That's a nice one Anju.. I remember the days when I used to choke up whenever I got on the stage.. It was quite a challenge getting out of that. But now, the world looks a lot more colorful :)..I kinda do it for a living now :)

    1. Hey- that sounds very interesting ! What and Where?

  3. This is really a problem for many people, as they lack confidence. This post is really helpful for them. Thank You

  4. Very nice post Anju ji... I have been your silent reader for all these days. But, I couldn't stop today :) Very well said, I hope many people would gain some confidence reading your article... Just wanted to share some things from my life with you...

    I have been a very shy girl and my lecturer started giving me surprise chances to speak in front of a crowd... My first speech was utter flop. But, slowly I had come out of the fear every time I got surprise chances and one day I did a whole day anchoring successfully! So, I realised that the day we forget our fear we would win.

    Thanks for letting me to share a part of my life :) TC! Keep smiling :)

    1. Sindhu, I am really touched - thank you for making me a part of your life and your journey towards a confident you:) Anchoring for one full day must have been really challenging. Kudos to you for doing it well and successfully !
      Keep in touch:)