Fear of public speaking is surprisingly common, and we all experience it from time to time. But, if your job involves presenting to an audience, a fear of public speaking can feel like a huge, insurmountable hurdle.
Don’t worry. In this guide, we share 7 psychology-backed tips to help you overcome your fear of public speaking. By the end, you’ll be armed with actionable, tried-and-tested strategies you can implement right away.
Ready to conquer your fears and face your next public speaking gig with confidence? Let’s go.
Where does fear of public speaking come from?
Fear of public speaking (otherwise known as glossophobia) is more common than you might think. In fact, some experts estimate that it affects about 77% of the population.
So, it seems that public speaking is pretty much a part of being human. But where does it actually come from?
Researchers have identified 4 main factors that contribute to fear of public speaking:
- Physiology: This is your body’s physical response to a perceived threat. Your nervous system prepares the body for danger, and this translates into an emotional experience of fear.
- Thoughts and beliefs: If you overestimate the stakes of a public speaking gig—for example, viewing it as a “make or break” event that could ruin your career or your credibility—this can result in fear of public speaking itself.
- Situational factors: Certain situation-specific factors can heighten your fear of public speaking—for example, if you lack experience in public speaking, if you’re speaking in front of a new or unknown audience, or if you perceive there to be an “evaluation” component (i.e. your audience is evaluating or assessing you in some way).
- Skill level: As with anything, increased competence in a certain skill leads to increased confidence. If you’re not a skilled public speaker (or don’t view yourself as one) then you’ll likely feel nervous about getting in front of an audience.
As you can see, there’s lots at play here. Conquering your fear of public speaking is all about addressing those 4 contributing factors—and that’s what we’ll do right now.
7 Psychology-Backed Tips To Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking (and Facilitate an Awesome Workshop)
We now know that public speaking is remarkably common, and we have a good idea of what causes it. Now let’s destroy it!
It’s simple but crucial: the better you prepare, the more confident you’ll feel walking into the room and delivering your speech or workshop.
Get organized well ahead of time. Have the logistics sorted, the agenda nailed, and the content down, so that all you need to worry about on the day itself is…the day itself.
The goal here is to take control of the factors that are within your control and to eliminate any unnecessary or avoidable causes of stress or anxiety. You can feel confident that, externally, everything is in place for the day to go well. This frees you up to focus on managing your public speaking fear, using all the expert strategies we’re about to introduce…
Takeaway: Prepare well ahead of time to eliminate additional stresses that can easily be avoided.
Many of the “fear factors” we covered earlier can be somewhat reduced if you practice before the event.
Of course, when facilitating a workshop, it’s not a case of practicing a speech and delivering it; by nature, workshops can be unpredictable. You’ll be following an agenda, but you don’t know how the conversation will evolve as the workshop progresses.
Still, if you’re really nervous, there are aspects of the workshop you can practice and perfect, like your opening speech or your explanation of different exercises. You can also think about phrases you’ll use to get the conversation back on topic if the group goes off track.
Takeaway: Practice some of the fixed components of your workshop, such as your opening speech, to build your confidence ahead of the day.
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3. Challenge specific fears and beliefs you have about public speaking
This technique relates to the “thoughts and beliefs” fear factor. Perhaps you fear public speaking (or workshop facilitation) because of certain beliefs you hold: that if you don’t do well, the audience will judge you and your career will be over, for example.
In order to conquer these fears, you need to acknowledge and challenge them. Is it really true or likely that, if you stumble over your words and go red, you’ll mess up the entire workshop and ruin your career forever?
We recommend practicing this step as a written exercise. First, list all your fears relating to the public speaking aspect of your workshop. Then, write down the worst case scenario if this fear should actually materialize. Finally, assess the objective likelihood of it happening (assigning a score out of 10, for example).
This will help you to rationalize certain fears and beliefs and subsequently minimize them. And, if you deem any fears likely to come true, you have time to come up with a contingency plan.
Takeaway: Rationalize your fear of public speaking as much as possible by writing out specific fears, identifying the worst case scenario, and assessing how likely it is to materialize. You’ll probably find that most of your “worst case scenarios” are unlikely to actually unfold, and that even if they do, it’s not the career-ending disaster you’re building it up to be.
4. Shift your perspective from “performance and evaluation” to “communication and value”
When we fear public speaking, it’s often because we’re viewing it as a situation where we’re performing and being evaluated. This places the focus on being a good public speaker and coming across well.
If you can shift your perspective away from performing and being evaluated to communicating something of value, you’ll take a giant step towards conquering your public speaking fear.
Don’t focus on yourself and how you’re coming across, or how your audience may or may not judge you. Instead, focus on communicating something of value that the audience will benefit from. That’s why you’re facilitating a workshop in the first place, right?
Ultimately, you want to train yourself to view workshop facilitation and public speaking as a conversation rather than a performance. You’re there to engage with your audience and give them something valuable—not to perform and be judged like a talent show contestant.
Once you’ve mastered this mindset shift, your fear around public speaking will significantly drop.
Takeaway: We fear public speaking when we view it as a performance we’re being judged for. Shift your mindset to focus on communicating and offering value instead.
5. Get your body in a state of calm
As you’re no doubt aware, fear of public speaking isn’t “all in the mind”. It comes with its fair share of physical manifestations, too. In fact, if we suspect we’re going to turn bright red or start visibly shaking, we feel even more nervous.
Great—so we’re nervous about public speaking, and we’re nervous about visibly showing that we’re nervous about public speaking. Eek.
As such, part of your quest to conquer your fear of public speaking should focus on managing those physical symptoms. There are specific techniques you can use to place your body in a state of calm, including breathing exercises (here are 6 you can try), mindfulness practices, and stretches, tongue-twisters, and facial warmups (as explained in this guide).
Preparing your body for public speaking is a great way to shake off nervous energy and regain a sense of control.
Takeaway: Ahead of your public speaking gig (both in the days and weeks leading up to it, and in the hours and minutes before) practice getting your body into a calm state. This will help to keep your nerves at bay.
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6. Own your fear of public speaking
Remember that statistic we shared earlier, that fear of public speaking affects as much as 77% of the population? That means you’re not alone in your fear, and that actually, most people in the audience would be just as nervous in your shoes.
In an effort to appear ultra-professional and in control, many of us have a tendency to hide our fears, viewing them as a weakness or a source of shame. But what if you just walk into the room and own your fear of public speaking?
What if you level with your audience and show a bit of vulnerability by telling them you feel nervous?
For one, you’ll completely eliminate that worry of “Will they notice that I’m nervous?” Yep, because you’ve told them. Now you can all move on.
That’s not all, though. Vulnerability makes you more authentic and relatable, allowing you to build a stronger connection with your audience. Having the guts to own your fear like that and make it public knowledge will no doubt earn their respect, too.
Takeaway: Being a good presenter and workshop facilitator isn’t about being flawless and fearless. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell your audience that you’re nervous and use it as an opportunity to build an authentic connection.
7. Hone your public speaking and facilitation skills
The more competent you perceive yourself to be as a public speaker and facilitator, the more confident you will feel. Honing your hard skills in this area can go a long way to helping you conquer your fears.
If you want to specifically master the art of public speaking, consider an in-person or online course. Search “public speaking” on LinkedIn Learning, for example, and you’ll find countless online classes. You might also consider one-to-one public speaking coaching (again, search that exact term on Google and you’ll be inundated with options!)
If you want to focus on public speaking and presenting within the context of workshop facilitation, consider a dedicated workshop facilitation course. This will teach you how to confidently facilitate workshops and equip you with techniques to engage with, and adapt to, your audience.
Takeaway: Fear of public speaking is often rooted in a belief that we don’t have the necessary skills, or that we’re not good enough. In developing your presentation and facilitation skills, you can squash some of your fears around public speaking.
We hope you find these strategies useful and are able to take proactive steps towards conquering your fear of public speaking. Remember: You’re not alone in your fear, and it will get easier over time!
Want to learn more about how to hold your own in any room and engage your audience? We think you’ll enjoy these guides: