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A Two-Step Approach to Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

Updated: Aug 19



Fear of judgement. Fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of not being good enough. As shown in my recent LinkedIn post, these are some of the common causes of public speaking anxiety.


When we look closely at these fears we can identify a common thread. Each fear is centred around something that hasn’t happened yet. They are fears of the unknown.


If we break them down further we would get a series of questions:


“What if my audience doesn’t like me?”

“What if I say the wrong thing?”

“What if I forget my lines?”

“What if they realise I’m not good enough to be in this role?”

“What if I don’t have the answers to their questions?”

“What if they throw a rotten tomato in my face?”


What if…


I have a theory. I believe there are two approaches to overcoming this fear of the unknown. There’s the short-term approach and long-term approach.


The short-term approach is all about preparation.


Whenever you get the opportunity to speak, prepare thoroughly. Know your content inside out, rehearse, seek feedback, come up with questions you may be asked, and have a ‘plan B’ for when the technology doesn’t work.


Preparation gives you the best chance of delivering a successful talk. The affirmation you receive from that solid performance will give you the confidence to do it again. Confidence comes from competence. Competence comes from preparation and knowing your stuff.


Confidence comes from competence. Competence comes from preparation and knowing your stuff.

The long-term approach is exposure. When you seek out opportunities to speak in front of a group, those fears and ‘what ifs’ become demystified. Exposure helps answer the questions behind the fear. The unknowns become known.


“What if my audience doesn’t like me?”

Actually, my audience wants me to do well.


“What if I say the wrong thing?”

I know my stuff. I’m prepared.


“What if I forget my lines?”

I can refer to my notes if necessary.


“What if they realise I’m not good enough to be in this role?”

There was a reason I was asked to deliver this talk. There is a reason I have this title. I am capable.


“What if I don’t have the answers to their questions?”

Actually, by preparing potential questions, I’ve probably captured 80% of what might be asked.


“What if they throw a rotten tomato in my face?”

I’ll smile, laugh it off, and ask for some salad dressing.


Preparation and exposure.


By being prepared and by seeking out speaking opportunities over and over again, I believe anyone can overcome public speaking anxiety.


In the meantime, there are three practical techniques you can incorporate to manage nerves and anxiety when preparing for a particular talk. See my next post to find out more.


- M

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