Ambush: When Experienced Speakers Develop New Public Speaking Fears

by drjim on September 29, 2009

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Experienced Speakers Can Have Phobias Too

Even the most accomplished public speakers can develop a sudden phobia about speaking in public. In order to get over this phobia, you need to recognize what kind it is and how to deal with it.

These phobias can show up out of the blue and you’ll never see them coming. Judith Pearson is an experienced counselor who has seen this happen time after time and she’s got some suggestions on what to do if / when this happens to you.

What is a Public Speaking Phobia?

One of the big problems that public speakers have with phobias is simply recognizing them for what they are. It turns out that a sudden fear of public speaking can hit an accomplished speaker at any time. If you find yourself with an irrational fear of speaking to a group, then you’ve got a phobia.

Pearson says that public speaking phobias can be broken down into one of three main categories:

  • It’s all about me
  • Past disasters
  • Fear of making mistakes in front of an audience

The “It’s All About Me” Phobia

In my opinion, this is the most common phobia that can hit an experienced speaker. If you develop this phobia, then all of a sudden you’ll find yourself feeling highly self-conscious when you think about speaking in public. The more you think about giving a speech, the more you’ll feel as though the audience that you’ll be talking to will be sitting there disapproving of every word that is coming out of your mouth.

The solution to dealing with this phobia is to sit down and have a talk with yourself. You’ll need to realize that ultimately it’s really NOT all about you. In reality, it’s the audience that matters – not you. They have come to hear you speak in order to learn – in all honesty it really doesn’t matter that you will be the one talking to them.

The “Past Disaster” Phobia

I think that we’ve all been here before: this phobia is created by some sort of traumatic event that has occurred in your past that had an accompanying highly-charged negative emotion. A great example of this would be if something went wrong with a speech and then the event organizer yelled at you about it afterwards.

Once again, the right way to deal with this phobia is to sit down and have a talk with yourself. You need to find a way to make yourself understand that what has happened has happened in the past. You need to realize that it can never happen again and you need to move forward. Acknowledge what happened and convince yourself that you’ll do better in the future.

The “Fear Of Making Mistakes” Phobia

If you have to have a phobia, then this is probably the one that you’ll want to have. The reason is that the fear of making mistakes is really the other side of the desire to do a great job at something. The phobia stops you in your tracks or makes it hard to get started because you just don’t think that you can do a good enough job at some speaking task.

This is the one phobia that you can actually muscle your way though. Ultimately the solution is to practice, practice, and practice. You need to get yourself to a point where you can realize that you are always going to make mistakes (we’re all human after all). However, you need to be able to observe your mistakes when you make them, make corrections, and then continue on.

Final Thoughts

Phobias are not just for beginning speakers – they can hit any of us at anytime. The key to dealing with a public speaking phobia is to realize what it is – a irrational fear.

Dealing with the three most common forms of public speaking phobias requires you to sit down and think through your fears in order to put them in context. This is the best way for dealing with them. Learn to do this well and you’ll be able to intimately connect with your audience and make an lasting impact in their lives.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you forget all of the advice that you’ve ever been given about speaking, then please at least remember this: audiences come to hear experts speak. No matter how badly you stutter, lose your place, don’t make eye contact, etc. an audience will always forgive a presenter whom they believe is an expert in what he/she is talking about.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Dana Hansen October 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Your points are good. Here’s another to consider.

Ian, the main character in my book, had big time fears of public speaking. But in order to become a manager in Santa’s workshop he had to undergo some training which, of course, included a speech class. What to do? He asked Google and one of the suggestions was to mingle with the audience before an event whenever possible. In his case he helped Elise, a good friend and classmate, with some administrative duties before class. Going around the room and interfacing with other students made him feel like a host. It was a great confidence builder!

All the best!

Eric Dana Hansen
Author of “IAN, CEO, North Pole”
http://www.ianceonorthpole

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson October 3, 2009 at 9:55 am

Eric: sounds like a great book! It turns out that Ian’s technique is a great way for any speaker to get over a case of the nerves. Greeting and talking with your audience before a speech is a great way to turn them from a faceless “audience” into a group of people that you know. As Ian found out, this take your speaking stress level WAY down…

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Sunshine Public Speaking December 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Good article Dr.Jim. I agree on the past disasters part. Being in toastmasters gives folks a comfortable feeling that committing mistakes is a part of learning!

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Dr. Jim Anderson December 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I couldn’t agree more! One aspect of Toastmasters that I don’t think get stressed enough is that you get to practice speaking in front of a bunch of people who are your friends. Now that’s the best way to learn anything!

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