Stage Fright

Stop Procrastinating and Overcome Your Public Speaking Anxieties

Procrastinate on curbing public speaking fears, and they keep coming back.

Posted Feb 28, 2012

Would you rather stay in a cave for a month than give a talk in public? Even if you have a lesser degree of public speaking anxiety, you have one of the most common forms of needless anxiety and fear.

The number of people suffering from public speaking anxiety is staggering. As many as 60 percent experience a scaled dread of raising a question at a meeting, making small talk, giving a talk, and so on.

Public speaking anxiety is an area where procrastination on conquering this fear  is common. Relatively few voluntarily create opportunities to overcome this anxiety. Instead, tens of millions retreat only to see it return.

You can practically always find a reason to wait until another day to face your public speaking anxieties and fears. You lack the will. You lack the skill. You'll grow out of it. You're too stressed out to risk changing now. Now you have reasons to do nothing. You also may have evasive tricks to avoid what you dread. If you look down and appear to be busy writing, your professor may not call on you.

Excuses and tricks perpetuate procrastination and your public speaking anxieties. However, if you are tired of being sick to your stomach each time you anticipate speaking before others, the time may be ripe to start making a positive change.

Shifting Perspectives

Changing from public speaking anxieties to feeling confidently composed takes leap frogging from absorbing yourself in anxiety thinking to solving your public speaking anxiety problems. Here's an attitude of mind to work towards: You stretch to do the best that you can in the time and resources that are available to you.  If a talk falls short, you pick yourself up and start all over again. That idea's simple. However, a simple idea often takes time to develop. You may stumble along the way. Stumbling occurs even among those who are well spoken and renowned.  

The speech President John F. Kennedy gave just before he gave his inaugural address, bombed. His Inaugural speech was his masterpiece.

Thought Content and Public Speaking Anxiety

To get over anxiety about speaking before others takes doing what you fear.  You can do this in small or larger doses.  As with most things in life, positive change comes from persistence.

Often this process takes understanding and addressing cognitive conditions that contribute to your fears.  Think about your anxious thinking. You can expose nerve jarring thoughts. Once seen, you are in a position to take corrective actions. For example, you

  • Envision falling beneath an idealized standard and believe this would be disastrous
  • Anticipate looking awkward, stumbling on your words, getting sidetracked, and freezing with nowhere to run
  • Expect to embarrass yourself
  • Contemplate  that you'll be blamed for not being knowledgeable, articulate, or funny enough
  • Believe you can't stand feeling anxious.

Tap into your anxious thoughts, and you've taken an important first step. Next, think deeper about your thinking. If you believe that "people" will judge you harshly for each and every mistake you make, where's the proof?

Procrastination as a Defense

What do you gain by putting off facing what you fear? (1) Procrastination on facing your public speaking anxiety keeps you away from a feared situation. However, by putting off facing your fear, you suffer a recurring anxiety. (2) You can temporarily avoid a threat to your ego image.  However, when your anxieties and fears persist, what does this do for your ego?

When procrastination is a defense against experiencing public speaking anxieties, this form of avoidance rarely leads to self-correction. Instead of vanishing, your anxieties over public speaking are likely to keep coming back. If you don't like this result, try a different way.

You may accept that you are procrastinating on facing your fears.  That's an important admission and step. You may legitimately say that you don't have the tools to break a deeply entrenched public speaking anxiety cycle. It's important to know self-corrective measures that you can work and would work for you.

Try the following: (1) educate yourself about what to do to stop procrastinating on facing this fear; (2) use this knowledge to cut through the mental red tape that you put in your path; (3) learn coping strategies to overcome your public speaking fear; (4) use the time you'd ordinarily spend worrying and procrastinating  to work at stopping feeling afraid. Then enjoy the benefits of feeling like a stronger, confident, you.

Here is another point---perhaps the most important one of all. Rather than duck it, accept the fear. Commit to living with it for a while as you work the fear out of your system. As you live with the fear, practice public speaking. You are less likely to extend your anxieties and fears about speaking up. You may someday look forward to public speaking opportunities. That won't happen overnight, but definitely can be a longer-term outcome.

I address public speaking anxiety in The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.  You'll find many change tools you can use right away. I  address procrastination on public speaking anxiety in The Procrastination Workbook.

To get started immediately, ask about corrective exercises and tips in the comments section following this blog, Others may chime in to share their experiences and views.

If you want to benefit from a program on combatting procrastination, Part 1 of a free 8 part multimedia presentation is available on line at: http://goo.gl/cwg44. Part 2 is available at: Combatting Procrastination Part 2

 Dr. Bill Knaus