Empty conference seats

How real is the fear of public speaking?

The fear of public speaking is something most of us are very aware of. Either we experience it or we are close to someone who does. There’s even a joke that because more people rate public speaking as a bigger fear than death, then you are better off in the coffin than reading a eulogy at a funeral. I doubt many of us really feel that way, but we can be asked to speak multiple times, and dying generally happens just the once. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s more prominent in our minds.

Can we avoid public speaking?

But does it matter, and can we go through life just avoiding the need? Most of us look to our career to answer the question “do I need to be comfortable at public speaking?” We often conclude, as I did, that it would be helpful but not critical. I imagined public speaking to mean speaking to hundreds of delegates on behalf of my company, and I didn’t need to do that.

I fell into being a speaker by accident and the whole thing has been a voyage of discovery for me. One of the first things I realised was the advantage of just being less afraid. As I was no longer preoccupied with worry I could concentrate on what actually mattered. My approach to one-to-one conversations at work was also improving. I was more focused, more intentional in what I was saying. I was thinking about when and how to illustrate my points more closely. I asked better questions and was more aware of whether I was connecting with my one-person audience.

Having public speaking skills is more than the ability to stand on a stage and speak to a large crowd. Obviously if you want to bring in a large income from public speaking then the skills are critical. For the rest of us there are still many times when the same skills actually make life easier.

A trophy

Public speaking to take control of your life.

Understanding how to identify your message and key points, and deliver those to your audience in a way that they connect with the benefits, is fundamental to developing a speech. When you can do that with your team, customer or boss, you have more chance of getting your voice heard. You can more effectively raise issues and avoid problems. You have more chance of reducing avoidable problems coming your way. By better speaking you gain more control over your life.

The confidence to reduce stress.

A fear of speaking was a huge barrier to me for a long time. For those of us who stress over the thought of public speaking at any level, whether to a group of 5, 50, or 500 then that stress leaks far beyond the event itself. If you are invited to a meeting a week in advance, the thought can play on your mind from that first moment. You might agonise about what you will have to contribute, what you should say and how you will cope. This can affect your sleep patterns and important tasks. Just knowing that you can speak up within a group reduces that stress. The confidence gives you space in your mind to consider the questions you do need to ask, and makes you less afraid of the answers.

Person getting credit from their team

Get the recognition you deserve.

Looking back, I’m amazed that I thought it was a good idea to ask others to do presentations for me. I thought that because they were better speakers, that they would do a better job. Yet, when I saw someone else deliver a presentation for a team, I always assumed that they were speaking because they had the best subject knowledge. I never thought for a moment that another fearful expert had asked the speaker to present for them because of their presentation skills. An audience usually perceives the presenter as the expert. Being able to deliver your own presentation helps you get the recognition that you deserve.

Enjoying the moments.

Being a more confident speaker has enhanced my private life as well as my work life. Being able to give a proper thank-you speech at a large family party and feeling confident enough to speak at a charity event were just two things I have really been thankful for. I was no longer leaving thinking “if only I had the courage to say that”. Knowing that if there is something to say, that you can just stand up, face an audience and say it, and enjoy the moment, that is true power in our lives.