Fear of Public Speaking

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What is your greatest fear?

Some people fear spiders. Others may be terrified of rats, clowns or flying. Some phobias are incredibly bizarre, such as the fear of the color yellow or the fear of trees.

There’s an almost infinite list of phobias, but what ties them together is that we are ultimately afraid of being harmed. If that is true, why do so many surveys show that the fear of public speaking is at the top of the list? Why do we fear to talk in front of an audience more than we fear death? After all, it’s unlikely to suffer any real harm after getting up in front of a group.

Or, are we?

To understand the mechanism behind our deep fear of public speaking, we must look at our evolution as social animals.

What Causes Social Anxiety?

Humans evolved in a world filled with risks. Evidence shows that early humans were commonly hunted by a variety of large predators. One of the ways we defended ourselves was by living in groups. That way, people were able to alert each other and fight predators together. Those who worked well together had more chances of surviving. The inability to integrate into a group and contribute to its well-being was probably a death sentence for early humans. So, the threat of rejection became a great risk to us. Alone, people weren’t able to protect themselves against predators and died within a short period.

This fear of rejection has become an intrinsic part of our lives. When faced with an audience, we usually experience terror because we are afraid of rejection. This fear emerges from a primal level, and it’s connected to our evolution as social animals. Ultimately, we don’t fear being ridiculed. We are scared of being ostracized from the group and left to defend from predators on our own. We fear rejection so much because until recently getting kicked out of a group was not only a form of social death. It meant death.

Overcoming Your Public Speaking Fears

Speaking in public puts you in a vulnerable position. But, just as with any other anxiety, you can overcome it. Understand that fear is a primal response that uses only your most basic instincts to process the information around you. It doesn’t employ the logical thinking and analysis tools we, as humans, developed over time. So, try to turn fear from a primal response to a logical decision-making process.

Here are some methods to help you overcome your fears, regardless of their nature.

Find every opportunity you can to face situations that cause you discomfort;
Don’t go on the “what if” path. Instead, focus on acting to your maximal potential in the present.
Take control of when you worry. In other words, you don’t suppress your fears; you just postpone attending to them for a bit. So, instead of worrying day and night about the speech you have to deliver next week, you set a particular time in the future when you can obsess about it.
Acknowledge the fact that the only thing that differentiates you from the best public speakers is practice. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to speak in front of an audience, whether we’re talking about a wedding toast or a work presentation. Learn from your mistakes, fix, improve and, sooner rather than later, you will get better.

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