Fear of public speaking
April 26, 2022
We have all heard the statistics about the fear of public speaking. Over 70% of the population fears it and more people fear public speaking than death. Sound familiar? While experts question the latter, it is clear that speaking with a lot of eyes staring back is something that makes most people uncomfortable at best. Unfortunately, the move to a remote workplace hasn’t helped the problem but instead made it different or even worse for many. Zoom performance anxiety is increasingly being discussed along with the conversation around the pros and cons of the new remote workplace and is a topic we will cover in an upcoming post.
What is often absent from conversations about the prevalence of the fear around public speaking is just how much it can hold people back professionally.
The importance of visibility at work
Whether it be those who stand out at meetings, those who get asked to deliver presentations, or those who advance to management positions; career success is about a lot more than hard skills. Harvey Coleman, author of Empowering Yourself argues that while performance, image, and exposure are all important factors to achieving career success, exposure counts for 60% and performance just 10%. If true, this is a frustrating reality for anyone with a fear of public speaking.
Besides Coleman’s analysis, employee behavior contributes to those with more speaking confidence advancing. A 2014 study found that 12% of workers would “willingly” step aside to let someone else on the team make a presentation. And those who end up presenting don’t do it for the love of public speaking, they realize the strategic importance of doing so, with 70% reporting that it was critical to their success at work.
Employers and managers are well aware of the advantage that team members who are more at ease with all eyes on them posess. The proof is in the pay. Studies show that a fear of public speaking can lead to as much as a 10% loss in wages.
The importance of public speaking to get work
Comfort with public speaking may also be the key to getting the job in the first place, an important consideration. Reports and studies regularly report that managers consider communication and presentation skills more important than any others. A 2017 corporate recruiters survey revealed that out of 25 skills managers believed to be most important for new hires, three in the top five were related to presentation skills: oral communications, written communication, and presentation skills.
And of course, public speaking is tied to the ability to interview well. Having eyes on you and being asked to speak on your feet while doing so is an essential skill to master both before and after landing a job.
Does the thought of presenting make you cringe? All is not lost. Experts and professional public speakers agree that most people are able to overcome this challenge enough to avoid it hindering their professional lives.
Three tips to overcome the fear of public speaking
Write it down
The most experienced public speakers look at ease in front of an audience and as if they are being led by inspiration. This is far from the case. Most presenters, including those of famous TedTalks, create a detailed script or outline in preparation for their talk. Don’t shy away from getting our your laptop and writing down each word you want to say. It will serve you well, especially if being in front of people makes you feel scattered or worried you will be too flustered to think of what to say.
As you prepare you may want to try to memorize your “lines” depending on the setting or type of presentation. However, if you are presenting virtually, there are many ways to have your outline or script visible to you to calm nerves and make sure to include everything.
Just because TedTalk presenters look so comfortable on stage doesn’t mean they haven’t practiced again, and again, and again. Nothing can replace practicing and saying your presentation outloud, especially if you fear public speaking.
Practice using multiple rooms, audiences, and settings. Get in front of the mirror, walk around your apartment, ask a friend to listen and provide feedback. If you are presenting remotely, put on your personal Zoom room and practice with the camera up.
Getting inspired is the first step in overcoming a challenge. When people live with a fear of anything, the messages that they tell themselves about the fear can sometimes serve to reinforce it. This is especially true for something like public speaking, which many people believe is tied to their ability or skillset.
You may want to begin with a simple journal entry that explores all of the reasons why you want to get more comfortable with presenting and the positive outcomes that can come of it.
You aren’t alone and there are a lot of resources to support your goal. Check out these YouTube videos for instant inspiration: