Survey after survey cites the fear of public speaking at the top of the ‘Fear List’ most people have. Some say they would rather die than stand in front of an audience and deliver a speech. This is unfortunate because it holds many back from reaching their potential.

Up to 75 percent of the population—to one degree or another—has this dread. There’s even a word for it: glossophobia (glosso from the Greek, meaning tongue; and phobus, fear). It’s important to note here that glossophobia is a word, not a disease—and it can be lessened!

You might be the world’s leading authority on a subject, but if you can’t present that expertise to others in a manner that educates, entertains and explains it well, you won’t achieve the goals that should be yours!

Sometimes, this fear is situational, depending on:

• Size of Audience

Speaking one-on-one is something we do all the time. What about speaking with five people? Ten people? What number for an audience makes someone nervous? A good analogy is a fear of heights. Standing on a step stool is not a big deal. A step ladder is OK. Climbing a 24-foot extension ladder to clean out my gutters—not me!

• Specific People in the Audience

Maybe speaking with audiences is easy until your boss, a colleague or spouse is seated in the front row. Yikes!

• Requesting Something of the Audience

Presenting might usually produce little angst, unless the attendees will be asked to do something the speaker is uncomfortable asking. This could be appealing for a donation or asking people to sign a petition.

I hear it continually from my coaching clients—and I agree—that not having this fear and taking speaking opportunities is a worthy goal. Before we talk about how to lessen the fear (next month’s column), it’s important to understand why so many people dread giving a presentation.

My first response is, Why not? Think about it. Most of our conversations are one-on-one. Many of those are on a phone, where we don’t see the person we’re communicating with. Increasingly, we converse by texting or emailing people. Those mediums eliminate seeing and hearing the other person.

It stands to reason that standing in front of, and speaking with 20, 40 or 100 sets of eyeballs, is out of our comfort zone. That’s a big reason we’re uncomfortable giving a presentation. (Relevant to public speaking and other activities we avoid, when we get out of our comfort zone, we make it larger!) That discomfort will—if presenting regularly—eventually lessen.

There are several very real reasons to have a fear of public speaking, including:

• If you don’t know what you’re speaking about

Don’t get in front of an audience and talk about something you have little or no knowledge of. That activity, rightfully so, will give you anxiety. Study the subject and know enough to have confidence in your competence on your topic.

• If you don’t know the structure of a presentation

Just as the recipe for a delicious cake dictates specific ingredients are added in specific amounts at specific times, there is a proven structure to a great presentation. You can learn this.

• If you haven’t practiced before the event

Practicing is not optional!

Then there are the ‘what ifs’:

• What if the audience doesn’t like me?

• What if the speaker they had last month was really, really, good and compared to them I stink!

• What if I forget something? I must be perfect!

Then there is, perhaps, the biggest what if…

• What if I have nothing to talk about? What could I ever present to an audience that anyone would have an interest in hearing? (I often hear in the public speaking classes I teach.)

This is where we’ll pick up the discussion next month. Till then, make next presentation NO SWEAT!

Questions? Visit NoSweatPublicSpeaking.com or email me at Fred@NoSweatPublicSpeaking.com.

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