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The Fear of Public Speaking


Techniques Public speaking > Articles > The Fear of Public Speaking

Feeling the fear | Why people fear | Doing it anyway | See also


Feeling the fear

Fear of public speaking, or 'Communication Anxiety' is often ranked higher than death, for example McCroskey (1993) and Richmond and McCroskey (1995) found that 70-75% of adults fear public speaking. Even professionals get stage fright: Hahner, Sokoloff, and Salisch (1993) found that 76% of experienced speakers feel some fear before giving their speeches. Paradoxically, one way of combating fear of speaking is in knowing that many others also feel this way.

Fear of public speaking can include fear of forgetting your words, fear of being judged, fear of difficult questions or all of these.

Fear can also be situational, for example where a head teacher is happy talking to pupils or the staff but is terrified of speaking at a head-teachers' conference.

Why people fear

One reason people fear public speaking lies in the power of social evaluation. We fear that others may judge us, find us wanting and so criticize and ostracize us, rejecting us as an inadequate outcast. This can put us into a child position, where we recall feeling judged and belittled by an overbearing parent or teacher.

In the looking-glass self, we see ourselves through the eyes of others and so we position ourselves in the eyes of the audience, looking with distain or derision. Social impact theory points out how immediacy and numbers of people multiply this effect, and speaking to a present audience certainly falls into these categories.

Doing it anyway

Susan Jeffers said 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway' in her famous little book, and that is certainly what you can do. One approach is to use sublimation in converting the negative energy of fear into positive power to deliver a strong speech.

Once you begin you have to focus on the audience and what you are saying, which gives less time to think about worrying, which is one reason why 'stage fright' is often forgotten once the actor treads onto the stage.

If you are reasonably confident in your subject, social facilitation will come into effect in the way that having an audience actually helps encourage you. In the same way, athletes often break their own records in big meetings rather than during training.

You can also make a lot of difference in the way you prepare for the event. Spend time building a presentation that is interesting and engaging. Practice until you are comfortable. If it is a big presentation, practice in front of a smaller audience (even just your family and friends).

See also

Social Impact Theory, Sublimation, Social Facilitation, Stress, Type of Fear


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