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Do people really fear public speaking more than death?

Ginger Leadership Communications

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. Jerry Seinfeld

Yes. You’ve probably seen and heard this quote a thousand times. It’s probably run through every public speaking training circuit known to man. It does, however, aptly reflect the attitude towards public speaking. Although public speaking fear is widely touted as the number one fear of all time, the numbers can be interpreted different ways. Some olders surveys say snakes are the number one fear, more recent ones list corruption as the number one fear. Whatever the survey, no matter the time, public speaking is ranked among the top. But is it really fear of public speaking or of something else?

Cognitive behavioral theory suggests public speaking fear is a type of social phobia. Researchers believe that a person, in part, creates their social phobia by inflating the consequences of their failure. In other words, we perceive public speaking to be more of a risk than it really is.

So many speakers I work with are more afraid of being afraid than of the actual speaking. They avoid public speaking because they believe that unimaginable things could happen if they show they’re afraid. The whole audience throws rotten veg and you get fired and you lose your house and then the audience forms a lynch mob and… (get the idea?). In reality, there is a well-studied list of effects fear can have on you – and not one of them is the actual end of the world. By understanding fear, you no longer need to be afraid of it.

Research into performance anxiety in music has shown that there are four state changes that fear can cause. You may experience all or some of these in varying degrees:

  • Emotion – Feeling nervous, stressed, worried, or panicked.
  • Thought – Forgetting your words or losing concentration.
  • Behavior – Trembling, fdgeting, moving in an awkward way.
  • Physiology – Upset breathing, increased heartbeat or an upset stomach.

By understanding that these are basic symptoms of those who fear public speaking, you can distance yourself from them. Next time you’re asked to speak and your stomach starts to rumble, you can rest assured that it’s entirely normal and a common experience. (No it’s not just you!)

Almost everyone experiences at least one or more of these changes when they’re preparing to speak – even the seasoned speakers. It’s totally easy to assume that you’re the only one who gets nervous when all you see is other speakers giving ace performances. Remember that their fear may express itself before they start speaking and they may have learned a sort of control over these symptoms. Just like you can.

If you believe you will ultimately fail at public speaking, you will experience public speaking anxiety.  We have a tendency to grossly overestimate what is at stake with our public speaking. Don’t take yourself so seriously! If you see that this particular speech will ‘make or break’ you or your career, you’ve set yourself up for failure. Yes everyone wants to do a great job – but this isn’t your only chance to do a great job.

Being fearless is not about a lack of fear. It’s about taking that fear and transforming it into excitement and energy around your message. It’s like fire. We can either look at the fire and say “oh, that might burn something, I have to put it out…”  in which case we end up with a sad pile of cinders. Or we can stick a barbecue on top of the fire and turn it into something useful for ourselves and our friends.

In a similar way, your fire as a speaker could be used in the right way to inspire your audience. From here you find deeply confident public speaking, rather than the superficial confidence that comes with ‘managing’ your nerves. Once you realize the hold fear has over you and the causes of said fear, you can begin to fear public speaking less and deliver your wonderful message to the world.

If you want to become more confident at public speaking, why not join one of our public speaking courses? You’re most welcome!

Here’s some courses relevant for you: 

Nerves and Confidence Training

How to Inspire through TED Style Speaking

Public Speaking Coaching

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