How To Overcome The Fear Of Public Speaking

Fear of Public Speaking

Everyone on earth, except perhaps those who have completely taken leave of their senses, has fears of one kind or another.

Fear is as much a part of the human emotional system as joy, anger and love.

Many times, our fears add value to our lives because they prevent us from doing dangerous things but on other occasions our fears detract from our lives because they prevent us from doing the things we truly want to do.

Everyone Has Different Fears

Various studies tell us that one of the greatest fears known to mankind is the fear of public speaking. In my case, that is not true at all. I do a lot of public speaking and not only am I not frightened by the prospect of it, but I enjoy it to the point that I look forward to it.

I did however, have a profound fear of public speaking in my youth.

Until now, I had not considered how I overcame my greatest fear because it happened over a period of years and after a number of fumbles and bad starts. It was an evolutionary change brought on by the necessities of my career.

The more I spoke publicly, the more my confidence rose and the less fearful I became.

Facing Your Fear

Usually, the fear itself is not as great a challenge as the ability to overcome it. Facing the idea of battling a fear head-on is much more daunting than actually living quietly with it.

In order to reduce or eliminate a fear, we must understand what is causing it.

Fears are warnings of things that have not happened yet.

When you are fearful, your mind is setting up a series of mental alarms and emotional defence mechanisms designed to prevent you from doing something.

The emotion of fear and the accompanying emotions of anxiety, trepidation, depression or anger are all put into play when the assemblage of your experience, knowledge, memories, nightmares and advice of others come together to focus on the event, thing, person or situation before you.

Even though nothing bad has happened yet, the combined body of intelligence that is your psyche’ begins to tell you to avoid a situation that could, conceivably put you in harm’s way.

If you allow fear to control you, it will never cease to torment you.

Using Your Brain

When fear takes hold, it causes us to become weak and helpless.

Fear of Public SpeakingIf the fear is imminent and potentially harmful enough, it might cause us to react with a physical action of some sort.

This is commonly known as the fight or flight response.

When our brain tells us that fight or flight is necessary, our reactions can vary from a full-on attack on the person or thing that we fear, or a simple turn-and-run-away response.

In both cases, our intention is to save ourselves from potential harm.

If we attack, we might destroy the object of our fears or drive it off…thereby neutralizing it. If we run away we will leave it behind…at least temporarily.

Living a Better Life

Living with fear or living a life of fight or flight is not an acceptable way to get through our short time on earth and accordingly, it is best to move beyond our fears.

However, we cannot push past a fear until we understand what causes it. In the case of the fear of public speaking, I learned over time, that the basis for my early fear was that I had a desperate need to avoid failure.

I had an unspoken belief that if what I had to say was inadequate for the audience, or if I stammered, stuttered or forgot my lines, I would be made to look foolish in front of my peers and superiors. In the worst case scenario I might be jeered, insulted and chased off the stage.

I was afraid not only of the actual speaking, but of the ridicule, embarrassment, dishonour and distress it might cause me.

Questions You Need to Ask

The next time you are faced with a fear, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I afraid of?
  • Why are other people I know not afraid of this?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • Will challenging this fear end my life?
  • Will this situation cause me any physical harm?
  • What precautions can I take to avoid failure?
  • Will the embarrassment, dishonour or distress of failing damage my career?
  • Will I damage my relationships with those most important to me?
  • Will others forgive me if I fail?
  • Can I forgive myself if I fail?
  • Is it worth the effort to overcome this fear?

With all of these questions, keep this  in mind to help you digest the process of learning a new regimen:

Most fears cannot be overcome immediately

Fear of Public Speaking

Convince Yourself

Because real fears are lodged firmly in the instinctive part of your brain, the Amygdala, your fight or flight response will continue until the cognitive part of your brain, the Neo-cortex rationalizes the fact that there is no imminent harm presented by the object of your fears.

With strong desire and real effort, you can convince your brain to accept the negative potential events you fear and eliminate its effects on you.

If you never give up trying to overcome your fear and face it often you will eventually succeed.

Practice speaking in front of a mirror, in front of friends, and in front of small groups. When you see the smiles on the faces of your friendly audience your confidence will soar.

When your listeners nod knowingly and applaud when you are done, you will be a public speaker and you will no longer have to live with fear.

Your Next Steps

Five steps to public speaking success:

  1. The only way to overcome fear is to put your toe in the water and test the temperature often. Speak every chance you get.
  2. Have friends or loved ones come with you for emotional support while you try it out.
  3. While you are trying it out, convince yourself that failure is an option and that once you have gotten all of the missteps and fumbles out of the way, you will improve.
  4. Always maintain a belief that you can succeed.
  5. Practice, practice, practice!

Most people can be much better speakers than they actually think they can. Push your fear out the door and give yourself a chance to be great!

So what are you doing to recognize the fears that are holding you back from success? What are you doing to quantify their grip on your future? Do you have a fear of speaking? What can you do, personally, to help yourself succeed?

Wayne Kehl is President and CCO at Dynamic Leadership Inc
He is author and behavioral analyst who lectures on leadership and motivation
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22 responses to “How To Overcome The Fear Of Public Speaking

  1. Great post Wayne. I facilitate presentation training for a number of clients and yes; overcoming fear by setting them up for success and providing with the skills is critical. A great book I highly recommend is “The Presentation Secrets of Steven Jobs. How to be insanely great in front of any audience.” Have fun!!


  2. Thanks a lot for your posting! Many years ago when I began my career (late 1960’s), I was deathly afraid of presenting, public speaking, and even social interaction – wasn’t very good for my business or personal life.

    Later on, I was asked to take over a Training Department and began to conduct short interval training sessions on professional development skills. Since I had that opportunity to face my fear and grow into an Instructor and course writer, I have learned how to deal with my fears and still do a reasonably good job of getting my points across to my audiences / students.

    I am still nervous when I get up to speak but given sufficient preparation and repetition, I manage to deliver in a comfortable and informative manner.



    • Thanks for the comments bgbg. I think a few butterflies of anticipation at the outset are natural and even healthy. The goal is to make them fly away as quickly as possible. 🙂


  3. Steve Jobs is legendary! I will look for the book. Thanks for the comments and the recommendation, Kristi. Cheers, Wayne


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  7. Wayne, you are absolutely right to write that living in fear is not acceptable. But I think there is a fundamental about public speaking that is often missed and in my opinion its the core point about fear. I hope its not too cheeky to add it to your blog.
    Its about our brains and our misunderstanding of what is going on when we stand before a group.
    When we have a normal one-to-one conversation we get approval signs through nods, uh-huhs, and other mirco-signals. When we speak to a crowd we get blank faces. We are still looking for approval – we wanting signs that we are accepted – just like a normal conversation. Of course we don’t get that approval we just get blank faces. We think blank faces are about boredon, disapproval, judgement etc. We think we know what people are thinking and its all negative stuff about us.
    BUT BUT BUT blank faces are normal – they are just how a group listens. Blank faces are to be loved rather than feared or at least accepted as standard listening faces. So we need to radically re-adjust our “approval meter”! Take a look at other people’s audiences when the speaker is really interesting.
    Its part of what I teach in my coureses for people who are scared of public speaking. Once people get the idea that we need different skills from a conversation when we speak publicly then it becomes possible. We need to radically re-think public speaking so it becomes simpler.


    • Thanks for that, John. I have seen the blank faces you describe many times and I always try to change them into smiling faces. Sometimes I find what I call my “go-to” person…someone who smiles or nods early in the session who I involve in the presentation. I agree that it is quite disconcerting to be in the position of staring at expressionless faces throughout a presentation. If you know your material and are certain of its value, it makes it easier to move through it. Great comment…Thanks!


  8. Many thanks for replying to my comment and starting a really good conversation.

    What I’m advocating is that we CAN learn to see blank faces are just listening faces rather than disconcerting.
    Imagine doing that and NOT seeing them as negative critics but as people who are interested.
    It would mean that we could concentrate on simple connection rather than getting entangled in what we think other people are thinking about us.
    That’s true liberation for speakers. It then becomes a lot less about self and fear and more about serving the audience.
    I work with people who are scared of public speaking and being the centre of attention and it takes only a day’s training to shift to this new way of thinking. I’m not trying to advertise but just to say that it is really possible to radically change your relationship with public speaking even if you are really scared of it.


    • Hey John…When I am delivering a presentation that has gone over well and received great commentary in the past, I am confident that the blank looks are in fact due to interested concentration. However, when I am delivering some new material for the first time, I always find myself asking someone afterwards, how it went. Despite the confidence I try to display, I guess we all have some performance anxiety…


  9. Quality Post, couldn’t have said it better myself. For me, getting over that initial stage was just practice, practice, and more practice speaking.

    It took a lot of presentations and speeches in order to get comfortable with my own voice.

    Great Post.


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  12. Came at just the right time, when i am about to present for the 1st time at an international conference on Nuclear Energy. Thanks….great stuff!!


    • Thanks Thomas!
      Good luck, with your nuclear energy presentation. I am sure you will be great!


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  14. It’s a such a nice article, which gives you all
    Hopes to live a fearless life. It has all power
    To stand again and conquer the world.


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