Overcoming Speaker’s Anxiety

For me, the secret to overcoming anxiety about public speaking is to remove myself from the equation.  It’s not about me – it’s about my message.  It’s that simple.

Here is why I say this.

I believe that the fear of public speaking is rooted in one (or more) of three things:

  • You think you have nothing worth saying.
  • You think you will embarrass yourself.
  • You don’t like being the center of attention.

Those are legitimate concerns. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about feeling that way.  But it’s only one side of the equation.

Just as there are reasons that cause you to prefer not to speak, there are also reasons that can convince you – even compel you – to speak. The two forces are held in tension, and it takes only a small change in those forces to tip you in one direction or the other.

What I am saying is that, as reluctant as you may be to speak in front of a group, there are circumstances that would prompt you to run to the front of the room and speak, even if it meant interrupting someone else.  Suppose, for example, that you had just received a text message that a massive tornado was approaching the facility and that everyone needed to seek shelter immediately.  Would you keep it to yourself out of fear of embarrassment?  I don’t think so.  Would you think it worth disrupting the event in order to warn others?  Of course.  People should be warned about the danger.  The message would be of enormous importance.  You would know that and you would act.

I’ve given you a dramatic example, but there is a lesson we can draw from this that applies even in less dramatic circumstances.  When it comes to public speaking, just remember that it’s not about you.  You are simply there to serve, to add value, to be the messenger of something worth saying.  That takes the pressure off.  It takes you out of the equation and puts the focus on the message itself.  For me, that changes everything.

Now, I concede that there are times when we may be required to speak, even though we have nothing significant to say.  In an academic setting, for example, you might be given an assignment to make a presentation or give a talk on some arbitrary topic.  Those can be challenging moments because the circumstances are artificial.  My advice, once again, is to remove yourself from the equation.  Find something about that topic that will enrich your audience. Tell them how the information you’re sharing with them may be of value, even if it’s simply to entertain them or encourage them.  Be positive.  Serve them in some way.