Some statistics say approximately 75% of the population suffers from presentation anxiety. Other studies show that number closer to 28%. While the statistics may vary, there is no doubt that the fear of public speaking is very real for a lot of people. The truth is, we may never completely get rid of our fear of public speaking. But we can reframe our fear, shifting our focus from things we can’t control to things that we can. In other words, we can learn to be afraid of the right things.
The Wrong Fears
Why are we so afraid of public speaking? Some of the common reasons are: we might embarrass ourselves, we might say the wrong thing, or we might damage our reputation. According to author Glenn Croston, it goes a lot deeper. Dr. Croston thinks our fear of public speaking is tied to our primal past when living in groups quite literally meant survival for humans. He says,
“When faced with standing up in front of a group, we break into a sweat because we are afraid of rejection. And at a primal level, the fear is so great because we are not merely afraid of being embarrassed or judged. We are afraid of being rejected from the social group, ostracized and left to defend ourselves all on our own. We fear ostracism still so much today it seems, fearing it more than death, because not so long ago getting kicked out of the group probably really was a death sentence.”
It makes sense. After all, studies show that anxiety disorders are prevalent, affecting 40 million adults in the United States. But when we focus on not making a fool of ourselves, we are essentially trying to preserve our place in society by being perfect. And as I’m sure you’ve learned by now, perfection is impossible. So we set ourselves up for anxiety when trying to maintain something we can never achieve. In other words, we’ve focused on the wrong fears by aiming for things are both unproductive and out of our control.
The Right Fears
We need to stop trying to eliminate our fear and instead, reframe it, by focusing on things we can control. According to psychologist Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, “Reframing is a central cognitive-behavioral technique of ‘telling yourself a different story’ about the same events . . . Reframing means coming up with a different interpretation.” We need a new story for our fear of public speaking. We need to focus on the right fears. For example, don’t be afraid of embarrassing yourself or making a mistake. Instead, be afraid of creating boring content. You can’t control if you slip up and make a mistake, but you can make sure you’ve developed content that is clear and compelling. Don’t be afraid of stumbling over words or shaking a little bit. Instead, be afraid of not practicing enough. Worry is natural, but you can put that energy to better use. Reframe your fear and focus on what you can control, things like creating stellar content and practicing enough.
Stop trying to fight uncontrollable, unproductive fears and replace them with things that are controllable and productive. When you do, you’ll find that your anxiety lessens and your confidence increases. It’s okay to be afraid. Just be afraid about the right things, and then use those to fuel your preparation.
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