Public speaking. It sounds pretty simple – instead of communicating with your friend or family member over the dinner table or at the water cooler, you say similar things to a crowd of people. However, just the mental picture of this can strike fear into the heart of many people. Public speaking is the most prevalent form of social anxiety, and something close to 27 million Americans suffer from the fear of public speaking.
You thought heights and spiders were scary? Public speaking is one of the all-time top fears throughout the population. An article by Chapman University shows among “personal fears”, public speaking is up there along with clowns and vaccines!
Personal Fears: Tight spaces, public speaking, clowns, vaccines
Why is speaking in front of a crowd or a small group, or even giving a toast at a party, so distressing to so many people? Because… they are all looking at you. Focused on you. Listening to you. In most of life you can get lost in a crowd, but when you speak TO the crowd, all eyes are on you! It’s unnerving and unsettling because it doesn’t seem normal to most people. They are hanging on your every word, and what if you make a mistake, or say something stupid or – Heaven forbid – have your dress stuck in your pantyhose or your tie askew and someone else notices before you do? Having all eyes and ears on you can distract you so much that your well-practiced words become lost and you can’t even remember what you wanted to say in the first place!
Becoming a confident public speaker is important. You never know when you will be asked to present a report to colleagues or management at your job, or give a toast at your best friend’s wedding, or share some insights at a book club or with a group of people who are learning something like you. Being able to come across confidently can elevate your stature in so many ways, but not having a confident approach can just as easily detract from what you know and what you want to convey.
Joining a club like Toastmasters can be very helpful to get some practice in a safe environment where everyone is trying to improve. Role playing with a friend or family member who will give you honest feedback is good. As you work to lower your anxiety around public speaking, try and put the emphasis on the audience. The more you care about their taking something away (yes, even from your wedding toast), the less you will focus on yourself. Changing your focus to the listeners, the audience, is a massive mindshift away from “How do I sound? How do I look?” as you speak in front of the group.
Consider the Six Keys to Confident Presenting®:
The more you can make the message about the audience, the more the audience will focus on that message, and the less on the person delivering it.