Do you call in sick to avoid giving a presentation at work?
Do you skip social events to avoid being the center of attention?
Do you have terrifying fantasies, like crashing your car into a tree, to avoid speaking in public?
If so, you are not alone. At least 80% of people dread talking in front of a group and 40% rate this activity as one of their top three fears.
Like others have succeeded, you too can overcome fear of public speaking.
You may have “managed” your fear of public speaking through avoiding situations that make you uncomfortable.
This may seem like the solution and you may think you do not need to change a thing.
But, you have the opportunity to face your fear, which will allow you to have social and professional successes – experiences that you have been continuously missing out on in life.
To start overcoming a fear of speaking in public, you need to learn the difference between rational and irrational fears.
A rational fear may involve being threatened by a mugger.
Your fear of public speaking is an irrational one, but you feel the same symptoms of anxiety or panic as if you were actually in danger.
A fear of having a panic attack during a speaking engagement causes you to feel anxiety ahead of time.
Thus, the tempting choice is to avoid that situation.
But by avoiding interviews, business presentations and parties, your irrational fear of public speaking increases and grows on a subconscious level, like an instinctive reflex.
Analyzing Your Fear
To start tweezing out your irrational thoughts, identify your specific fears for public speaking.
Is it related to presentations, interacting with groups, talking to strangers, expressing your opinions, or perhaps all of the above?
The trick is to replace your negative insecurities with positive encouragers that are actually more rational than those you are scared of.
For example, if you fear that you will make a fool of yourself while giving a presentation and that the audience will be judgmental, turn that into an encourager like, these are my colleagues, they are on my side and they want the best for me.
If you worry that someone will be bored during your presentation, tell yourself that it is impossible to please everyone, and even if someone is yawning, the others are intrigued.
By consciously replacing negative, irrational thoughts with positive, rational ones, you are beginning to retrain your brain.
Before diving into presentation in front of 50 people, you need to practice exposing yourself to these situations at home.
This is a way to unlearn your avoidance behavior.
The more you visualize public speaking, the less fear you will have for an upcoming presentation or social situation.
Start by imagining situations that cause you a little fear, like introductions to new people.
Allow the anxious symptoms to express themselves and counter-attack them with breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
Gradually visualize situations that are more frightening, like a presentation in front of ten people and then 20 people, etc.
As you expose yourself to these simulations, you will see that your fear reactions will decrease over time.
You will learn that it is the anticipation, and not the actual experience, that feeds your phobia.
Learn to Speak Naturally
As you start thinking more rationally and practicing exposure exercises, you will begin to feel keen to give a presentation.
Further reduce your fear of public speaking by learning techniques that will help you speak naturally and remember what you want to say.
Learn to create mind maps for each speaking engagement. These diagrams allow you to know your speech both visually and verbally.
Preparing a mind map on paper helps you memorize your presentation, remember your key points and assists you to stay on topic.
Then, practice your speech alone. Also, practice positive visualization.
This involves picturing yourself delivering your presentation confidently and successfully, from beginning to end.
After engaging in this activity, you will be armed with the self-assurance that you will do a great job.
Now it’s time for the ultimate test. Invite a small group of people you trust to your house and deliver that speech.
Ask for feedback from your audience and you will be pleasantly surprised to hear many positive comments.
If there are areas for improvement, you can address these in your next presentation, which will allow your confidence to grow even more.
You will have taken a huge step towards completely overcoming your fear of public speaking, but don’t let it stop there.
Volunteer for presentations at work or in the community, starting with speaking in front of small groups and then increasing your audience size.
The same can be done in front of a group at a social event. Commit to telling one story or one joke at a party.
At the next meet and greet, challenge yourself to telling two stories or to interact with two groups of people, and so on.
The more practice you get in, the easier each public engagement will be.