Public Speaking – Managing the #1 Fear in the World

Fear of Public Speaking

My Dad, my first music teacher, taught me clarinet and one of the first things he had me do was perform a solo at a band contest – I was 8 years old and scared out of my gourd, yet I’ve been in front of groups ever since. People often say that it must be easy for me and that I couldn’t possibly be nervous. Well, when it comes to nerves, I get as nervous as anyone else. In fact, when I get up in front of groups, my adrenalin is so pumped, that (at least to me) my face feels flushed, my heart races, and my stomach flips.

Fear of public speaking is the #1 fear in the world – more than death (actually, 75% of people are afraid of public speaking – more than the number who are afraid of death???) – apparently, in life you die once, but in public speaking, you die a thousand times over. Since I make a living in front of groups, whether teaching, presenting, or facilitating, I’ve found some tricks that help manage my nerves. By the way, you don’t eliminate the fear; you learn “how to” manage it.

First of all, my fear is about being judged. So, it isn’t about what I’m going to do or say; it’s about what I think the audience is thinking. Knowing this has helped me because, to me, it is more about how I relate to the audience.

Step Away from the Lectern

When people give presentations, usually they stand behind a lectern putting a gap between themselves and the audience. When nervous, that is the worst place to be. What do they do? They grab onto the sides of the lectern as if it’s their life preserver. Standing with a box between you and the audience, only reinforces that gap and that gap emphasizes the fear of “judgment”. What do I do? I avoid lecterns, even to the point of having them removed from the stage because it prevents me from walking around, which helps dissipate the adrenalin, which helps reduce my nervousness.

Connect with the Audience

Looking at the audience as if they are in their underwear, as many presenters advise, is distracting – I’d rather connect with them. I walk to the audience to feel closer to them. I joke with them when appropriate to ease tension. I make eye contact to connect. If they have nametags, I use their names and shake their hands to make a personal connection. The more I connect with my audience, the easier it becomes for me because I feel part of the group.

So…

I get nervous like the rest of y’all but I’ve learned “how to” manage my fear by removing the gap – stepping away from the lectern and connecting with the audience. Try it; it’ll make you a better presenter.