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  • Inna Khazan

Do You Ever Wonder Why Speaking In Public Is So Terrifying?

Jerry Seinfeld once said that “at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy. As crazy as it sounds, this quip isn’t that removed from reality. Studies have consistently shown that people’s number one fear is generally public speaking.

Why, exactly, is speaking in public so terrifying? Being in front of others makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. We have to do all the hard work ourselves while everyone sits and watches. What’s more, we feel like we’re being evaluated, as if the audience is judging us on how well we perform. One small mistake feels like the end of the world, sending us into a full-blown panic.

As terrifying as public speaking is, just about everyone will have to do it at some point in life. You may even have a job or some other engagement that requires you to speak in public occasionally. In this case, you probably have no choice but to be in the spotlight from time to time. How, then, can you prepare yourself so that anxiety doesn’t get the best of you?

Four Steps To Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

The first step in overcoming your fear of public speaking is to give yourself a break. Cutting yourself some slack can go a long way in healing from anxiety. This is why it’s important to accept your nervousness. After all, most people are afraid of public speaking. You are not alone, no matter how alone you feel. Accepting that you are afraid and that your fear is normal is a way to show yourself kindness. What’s more, acknowledging your nervousness actually makes it easier to be in front of others—you won’t feel such a pressing need to hide your fears.

The next step in overcoming public speaking is to pay attention to physiological symptoms of distress. For instance, maybe right before you speak in front of others, your palms get sweaty, your heart races, or your stomach hurts. Being able to interpret these bodily signals appropriately can help you respond to them in a healthy way in a real time. You can learn to recognize these physiological sensations for what they are: your body’s way of preparing itself for action. After all, you can’t be too relaxed before you speak in public. Being nervous motivates you to practice and prepare your speech and gives you the energy you need to do it well. Without any fear at all, it’s hard to maintain a high level of motivation.

After identifying your body’s stress responses, the next step is working to regulate and balance those responses. The best way to do this is to engage in regular breathing exercises. You can practice low and slow breathing, regulating your body’s use of oxygen. The key is not to breathe too deeply or too fast. Deep breathing can actually reduce the amount of oxygen available in the body. That’s why it’s important to take normal-sized breaths with a full, extended exhalation. This can help you body optimize its use of oxygen and give you the amount of energy you need.

Finally, the last step involves practicing speaking in front of small audiences and gradually working your way up to larger ones. This may not be accessible for everyone—after all, not everyone can summon an audience at any given time. But if possible, it’s helpful to gather a small group of people—perhaps close friends or coworkers—to speak in front of. Perhaps you begin with just a couple of people. Then maybe a small group of five, then 10 or 15, etc. In this way, you give yourself a chance to adjust to different crowd-sizes, taking baby steps toward your ultimate goal: overcoming your fear of public speaking.

Learn To Stay Calm And Collected In The Spotlight

If you’d like to learn more about overcoming public speaking anxiety, we encourage you to pursue anxiety counseling with us. To get started, contact our Boston, MA office either by using the contact form, or calling 617-231-0011 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.

Click here for more information on the anxiety treatment that our therapists provide.


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