Just like an extreme fear of attending social gatherings and eating alone, public speaking anxiety is one type of social phobia.
In studies done by Dr. Murray B. Stein et al., participants were interviewed related to social situations.
Eighty-five percent of the respondents said that public speaking made them nervous.
Thirty-four percent said that speaking in front of audiences caused notable distress and they thought it affected them more than most people.
Anxiety and public speaking may include fear of giving presentations at school or work, attending job interviews, being introduced to a group of people, giving a speech at a wedding, talking to a stranger or someone in authority, and expressing one’s opinions in group situations.
If you suffer from a public speaking phobia, you may relate to one, several or all of these fears.
When you are in the spotlight, maybe your mouth gets dry, you start to blush, tremble or sweat, your muscles tense up, your mind goes blank, or you feel like your heart is racing.
Anticipation of a public speaking event, the night or even the week before, may cause trouble sleeping, a loss of concentration, restlessness or a feeling of being trapped.
Perhaps these anxious or panic symptoms feel so debilitating that you avoid speaking in public altogether, by missing social gatherings, calling in sick, skipping class, hiding behind others to avoid talking or never leaving the house.
Maybe you think you have been coping just fine and that you can continue to steer clear of activities that cause you such discomfort.
The truth is, you don’t need to barely get by anymore – you can eliminate public speaking anxiety completely from your life.
Realizing Your Fear is Irrational
According to Benjamin van Spijck, approximately 80% of people have at least one irrational fear.
A rational fear is based on an actual threat. All human brains are programmed to react to real dangers, such as moving out of the way of an out-of-control racing car.
The flight-or-fight portion of the brain sends a signal to your body to get out of harm’s way. Your anxiety in public speaking is an example of an irrational fear.
That same zone in your brain has learned to interpret public speaking situations as actual threats, thus you feel the same anxious feelings to these as you would in actual dangerous situations.
Luckily, just as your brain has been programmed to react to speaking in public, it can be reprogrammed not to panic in these same situations.
By learning that most humans are not out to judge you, and that public speaking does not have to be characterized as a grand performance, you can overcome your public speaking anxiety.
Think of those you are already comfortable talking to. You are more than capable of doing the same with those you are nervous to speak in front of.
This will open up a myriad of new opportunities, like a possible job promotion or meeting new friends.
What is Your Specific Fear?
Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety involves determining what exactly you are afraid of when it comes to speaking in public.
Exploring these specific fears will allow you to learn, consciously and subconsciously, that they are irrational.
You may fear that you will look ridiculous, boring or make mistakes in front of a group.
But, being perfect is an unrealistic expectation and your fellow human beings are more forgiving than you think.
Plus, making an error or boring a few people is not an actual danger; it is an irrational fear and one that will not lead to your demise.
Fearing that you will have a panic attack during a presentation that will lead to insanity, a loss of control or death, although common for many anxiety sufferers, is irrational.
Panic attacks eventually subside and you will not die or “lose it” from having one. In fact, most observers won’t even know you are having a panic attack.
It is time to replace negative and irrational thoughts with positive and encouraging ones.
Tell yourself “I know a lot about this topic and I have some valuable things to say”; “I am an equal, not an inferior, and I have the right to speak”; or, “I love speaking with person A, B, C, so of course I can talk to person D, E, and F.”
Practice Speaking and Relaxing
In addition to realizing your anxiety is irrational, practice public speaking at home.
Vividly imagining a speaking encounter that makes you nervous and remaining with that encounter is a form of exposure therapy.
The more you expose yourself to these simulations, the closer you will get to reprogram your brain; you will truly acknowledge that public fear does not pose any actual danger.
Coupling this practice with breathing and muscle relaxation exercises will transform your panic attacks into moments of calm and confidence.
How to Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety
Overcoming your public speaking anxiety cannot be done overnight and should not be put off until the night before a speech or social event.
Just like learning and mastering any new skill, eliminating your public speaking anxiety takes consistent practice.