Home page Psychology blog Bad Habits Altered Mental States “Fear at the microphone!”: How not to be afraid to speak in public

“Fear at the microphone!”: How not to be afraid to speak in public

06.08.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

“I’m scared to go on stage. I am shy, and I feel embarrassed in front of all those people…”

– Maxim, 8

“How to overcome the fear of public speaking? I have not been a schoolboy or a student for a long time. I work for a large company and lead a department of ten people. But every time I go out with a report to the board of directors or just go to karaoke with my friends, I feel shaky. My voice starts trembling, red spots appear on the neck, my speech stumbles… It’s a miserable picture”.

– Konstantin, 28

Similar sensations before speaking in public are experienced by both children and adults: trembling in the knees and throughout the body, change in voice, pace and manner of speech, nausea, dizziness.

Many of us have to address a large number of spectators in our professional lives. We read reports, defend projects, perform creative acts and make congratulatory speeches. And only a few can firmly say that such moments do not cause them any discomfort.
A moderate amount of anxiety and excitement before the speech has its positive aspects. In anticipation of an important event we become more attentive, organized, energetic. As a result, our performance is successful and of high quality.
But what if the fear goes beyond the boundaries of natural excitement and becomes so strong that it acquires the features of glossophobia – a pathological fear of public speaking? Is glossophobia treatable?
This article describes how to overcome fear of public speaking and give yourself a chance to be heard.

Contents:

  1. How our fear works: about the signs and manifestations of phobia
  2. Why we are afraid: about the nature of the fear of public speaking
  3. 15 ways to overcome the fear of public speaking

How our fear works: about the signs and manifestations of phobia

fear of speaking

“Long pauses are good: they add solemnity to great occasions”.

“Then I’m the solemnest king who ever lived”.

Quote from The King’s Speech movie, 2010.

Fear appears a few days before the performance. A person could be sorting through the options in his/her head why the audience will not like their speech, thinking about what criticism it will be subjected to.
In a sense, such a feeling has obvious benefits – it motivates one to better prepare and plan the details of the speech. But sometimes the fear becomes very strong and manifests itself in unpleasant mental and physical symptoms. [1]
 

Physiological signsPsychological manifestations
Voice clamping (timbre, tone, voice volume changes, voice trembles), sometimes – stuttering and loss of ability to speakExcessive self-criticism
Muscle tension, tremorIncreased anxiety
Dry mouthPanic attacks
CardiopalmusForgetfulness
Blood pressure spikingMood swings
SweatingSuspiciousness
Dizziness, headacheNegativism
NauseaProcrastination
Pressing pain in the heart 
Involuntary urination 

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Why we are afraid: about the nature of the fear of public speaking

Causes of glossophobia, as well as other types of pathological fears, can be hidden in genetic and social aspects.

The psychological characteristics of parents are genetically inherited and can be passed on to children. Parents and children have similar fears, certain ways of perceiving them, the same reaction force and the degree of being affected by them. [2]

The social aspects of public fear include:

  • overly strict upbringing, many restrictions in childhood (“do not speak,” “sit quietly,” “shut up when adults are talking”);
  • intimidation, threats from parents (“if you talk too much, we will leave you alone at home”);
  • negative childhood experience (one of the classmates laughed or mocked you);
  • excessive susceptibility to criticism of others and very active “internal critic”;
  • low self-esteem;
  • hypersensitivity to stress factors. [2]

Whatever the reasons for your fear of public speaking, you can overcome it.

15 ways to overcome the fear of public speaking

“Adult” mindset helps me overcome the excitement and fear of the stage in the annual reporting performances. I tell myself: “I need this. I know my stuff. I can do well”. Of course, confidence is strengthened with the number of rehearsals in the troupe and at home, when you repeat your role hundreds of times. The team and the realization that you are not the only one who shares the responsibility with colleagues are of great assistance. Real colleagues provide energy and help. Of course, getting rid of the fear of speaking in public is better in childhood. For an adult, this is a big struggle with oneself, an overcoming. Now that we have played the third season, I can confidently tell myself that I am cool, I am unique. And even if I make a mistake, that’s fine. If I make a mistake, I will correct it”.

– Olesya, 37, attends acting classes

Olesya works as a real estate agent. At work, she often has to make presentations and speak to a large number of people. To solve the issue with fear, she began acting in an amateur theater. This not only helped her feel more confident in front of an unfamiliar audience, but also became a favorite hobby.
Perhaps you do not have to speak to people as often as Olesya. And, of course, you don’t have to repeat her path at all. We will give some universal tips on how to get rid of the fear of public speaking.

why are people afraid

1. Make a detailed plan

The first and perhaps the main key to overcoming the fear of public speaking is a thorough preparation. It is good if you become aware of the task of public speaking in advance. Optimal is 5-7 days before the event. Then you have time to draw up a clearly structured speech plan, prepare a presentation (if necessary), rehearse speech in front of a mirror or friends.
To reduce the level of anxiety, you can start the preparation by compiling an intelligence card. This method allows to clearly structure your thoughts and easily remember them. Take a large white sheet, colored pencils, pens, felt-tip pens. Place a block with the main idea – the topic of the presentation, in the center. Derive the hierarchy from the main topic – depict transitions to arguments and theses as arrows, branches or roots of a tree. Add images of icons, pictograms that will reinforce the meaning of theses and improve memorization. Try to enjoy this creative process.

2. Replace fear with motivation

Recognize the presence of anxiety. Accept it. Now convince yourself that fear is given to you so that you can bring your performance to perfection. Rehearse as often as possible and the anxiety will subside.

Irina Beryozka, stage speech teacher at the Department of Musical Theater of Novosibirsk Glinka State Conservatory advises repeating a speech lasting 30 minutes at least ten times. A short performance for 5-7 minutes – up to a hundred times. In the process of constant repetition, confidence increases, fear recedes, and the quality of the speech becomes much higher.

3. Imagine your failure

Strange advice? Not at all. This exercise is useful, but no more than once. Imagine the worst-case scenario of your performance and its consequences. Exaggerate, dramatize, bring to absurdity and come up with ridiculous punishments. For example, you were unsuccessful, and the audience by collective vote decided to permanently deprive you of the right to cut your hair and eat ice cream. And here you are, standing at a kiosk and looking through the window, all scruffy and sad.
The meaning of the exercise is to give fear some grotesque features. When you want to laugh at your own fantasies yourself, the real possible consequences of an unsuccessful performance will no longer seem so scary.

4. Feel the rhythm

When we worry, unnecessary interjections and parasitic structures are interwoven into our speech. To minimize the amount of “aaa …”, “um …”, “soooo…” and other speech “impurities”, work on the rhythm of your speech.
Break the report into short blocks with small pauses between them: take a two-second break after a couple of semantic sentences, then voice another two or three statements.

5. Turn on “jester mode”

This exercise, which is practiced by young actors, will be useful in the preparation phase. If during rehearsals you can’t find your calm and smooth tone of narration, try to take an absurd pose and repeat the text. For example, with one hand resting on the tip of your nose, and the other against the back of your head. Do it in front of a friend or a mirror. Here is how actor Dmitry Kozelsky comments on such a method: “You stop being afraid of ridicule and judgment of others, because you already look ridiculous. And now all your energy is directed to what you say. Jesters did so long ago, allowing themselves to express everything they felt by clowning around”. [3]

6. Feel your body

Before starting the performance, do some exercises that will help intelligently redirect the flow of adrenaline. The first and simplest exercise is breathing practice. Breathe deeply as if during meditation. This can be done even while sitting in the auditorium and waiting in line. The flow of oxygen to the brain will help calm down. If you are noticeably stressed, find an opportunity to stay alone and perform more energetic physical exercises: squats, swings, lunges. But don’t overdo it. The goal is to ease tension, and not to sweat your guts out.

7. Do not go on stage hungry

When you worry, your appetite may be completely gone. However, hunger increases anxiety. Eat something light and grab a healthy snack or cereal bar with you an hour before the performance.

8. Drink water

The most unpleasant side effect of an adrenaline rush is dry mouth. In such a situation, it becomes difficult to speak. Drink a glass of water five minutes before going on stage.

9. Do not rush

Remember the pace of speech and the time it took you to go through it during rehearsals.

You may have a subconscious desire to end the performance as soon as possible because of anxiety. Start calmly, without rushing. This will allow you to get used to the audience, and the audience to you.

10. Do not be ashamed of your vulnerability

Chris Anderson, the ideologist, president and curator of famous TED conferences, believes that the speaker should not be ashamed of his/her excitement: “Listeners are sympathetic to speakers who are clearly nervous, especially if they find a way to show and delicately explain their condition”. But we do not always speak to such a loyal audience as TED listeners. [4]

Even if you doubt that the audience will accept your confession of anxiety in a friendly manner, you can be 100% sure of the next statement. Your anxiety is not as noticeable for the audience, as for yourself. They will be more interested in the topic of your speech (otherwise why would these people be in sitting front of you?). It is possible that none of the viewers will notice how your knees tremble, and the coffee stain on the shirt pocket for which you reproach yourself so much. Therefore, focus on the topic of your speech and not on how you look and what people will personally think about you.

11. Accept your uniqueness

glossophobia

It is likely and logical that, in preparation for the speech, you will turn to the experience of other speakers: watch videos, attend conferences and lectures, so you can assess their oratory skills, pay attention to what lexical techniques and gestures they use. But before adopting the manners of the speaker you like, make sure that they suit you. Friends will help you with this. Ask them to listen to you and say frankly whether something confused them in your manners or everything looked organic. Feel free to discard the tricks that do not suit you. Remember that each person is unique, and you have a chance to develop your own unique style of storytelling.

12. Find “friends” among listeners

At the very beginning of the performance, find faces in the hall that will be attractive to you. Three or four people in different parts of the hall will be enough. When giving a speech, look at them. This will trigger a response and give you peace of mind and confidence. If this method seems too treacherous to you, think about whether you can invite your real friends to the hall and address them directly. This will positively affect your general state and tone of voice.

13. Add charisma and humor

If you have a good sense of humor and the theme of the event is not at odds with jokes and improvisation, try using this. For example, tell about a funny case from life that somehow resonates with the topic of your speech, and evaluate the audience’s reaction. Animation and laughter in the hall will give you confidence.
Be careful if you are not confident in your abilities. Try not to joke about controversial issues and acute social topics.

Svetlana Vinokurova, a public speaking coach and founder of the School of Public Speaking “Man of the Word”, recommends introducing jokes into speech without warning the audience: “By telling the audience that you remembered a joke or that something funny happened on the way to the meeting, you’ll lose your joke’s main advantage – an element of surprise, focusing the audience on the joke itself, and not on the topic of the speech”.

14. Work out a plan B

If you are afraid that something will go wrong, come up with a backup plan. Afraid to forget what you want to say? Keep notes or text handy. Afraid of a technical hitch for reasons that are not up to you? Keep a short personal story or professional advice to share during an awkward pause. Or think over questions you can ask the audience.

15. Get rid of the habit of being afraid

Fears are a learned form of behavior. Or, more simply, a habit. If you feel that it is not possible to cope with the panic-driven fear of public speaking on your own, you should work more deeply on the internal attitudes. An effective way to do so is 7Spsy behavior modification technique. The method involves remote work under the guidance of an experienced psychologist and helps get rid of a number of phobias, including fear of the stage. During a period of up to 6 weeks, you can replace the attitudes that led you to glossophobia with positive ones. This will allow you to easily express your thoughts publicly and feel confident.

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You can overcome the fear of public speaking and get rid of the habit of fear forever if you recognize its presence in your life and be ready to work on it. In the end fear will leave the stage, and you will enjoy your finest hour.

References:

  1. Glossophobia or the Fear of Public Speaking. Symptoms, Complications, and Treatments (https://www.verywellmind.com/glossophobia-2671860).
  2. Glossofobiia: kak poborot strakh stseny(http://fobiya.info/strah-situatsij/glossofobiya).
  3. Vyiti na stsenu (http://www.psychologies.ru/wellbeing/vyiyti-na-stsenu/).
  4. Anderson K., «TED TALKS. Slova meniaiut mir: pervoe ofitsialnoe rukovodstvo po publichnym vystupleniiam», Izdatelstvo «E», 2018 g.