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4 Reasons For The Fear of Public Speaking

Updated on September 24, 2014

Public Orator In Ancient Rome

A 1888 portrait by famous Italian painter Cesare Maccari, "Cicero Denounces Catiline".
A 1888 portrait by famous Italian painter Cesare Maccari, "Cicero Denounces Catiline". | Source

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

— Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld

According to stand up comic Jerry Seinfeld most people would rather be in casket than giving the eulogy.
According to stand up comic Jerry Seinfeld most people would rather be in casket than giving the eulogy. | Source

Rather Be In the Casket than Give the Eulogy

Why is the fear of public speaking such a grave one for many individuals? As an experienced public speaker who also has experience teaching others, I have observed certain key reasons that contribute to the fear of public speaking.

The fear of public speaking can be broken down into 4 distinct fears. All 4 of these fears could be considered types of social phobias. We will now examine these.

Public Speaking Poll

Would you rather be in the casket or give the eulogy?

See results

Jerry Seinfeld on Fear of Public Speaking

Social Phobias

The fear of public speaking can be closely linked with a number of other social phobias. Let us consider four specific fears that are connected to the fear of public speaking.

  1. Fear of what others think
  2. Fear of being criticized
  3. Fear of failing
  4. Fear of succeeding

We will consider these four phobias one at a time and we will analyze how it connects to the fear of public speaking. Understanding how these fears correlate with the fear of public speaking is the first step in overcoming the fear.

Fear of What Others Think

A common human tendency is to be self conscious. This tendency can be a real barrier in overcoming the fear of public speaking.

It is true that if we are going to speak in public, it is only natural to want to make a good impression. Along these lines a reasonable degree of self consciousness can even be healthy. But if we become unduly concerned of how we are perceived, that fear of what others think can truly be paralyzing.

Fear of Being Criticized

We can link this social phobia with our previous fear of what others think. If we get up in front of an audience with the assumption that they are passing judgment on us this can greatly contribute to our fear of public speaking.

To succeed as a public speaker you cannot be afraid of criticism. If we do end up receiving any criticism we need to take it in stride. If the criticism is constructive it can help us make needed improvement. If it isn't then we need to develop thick skin, and just ignore it.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein would never of succeeded if he succumbed to fear of failure.
Albert Einstein would never of succeeded if he succumbed to fear of failure. | Source

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

— Albert Einstein

Fear of Failing

Fear of failure is also closely linked with fear of being criticized & fear of what others think. We can see how these social phobias are closely linked to each other, and how they each contribute to the fear of public speaking.

If we are not careful the fear of failing can be self fulfilling prophecy. To succeed in public speaking you cannot be overly concern about the possibility of failure.

Fear of Succeeding

It may sound weird to say that fear of success is a hindrance to public speaking. It may even sound weird to think that fear of success is even a common social phobia. But there are individuals that struggle with the idea of succeeding.

Why is that? Part of the reason has to do with expectations. When we do something well we may be afraid that people will expect too much from us.

As odd as it may sound, the fear of success can also be linked to the fear of failure. I know with myself I always have a tougher time accepting praise than criticism. Due to the self esteem issues of my youth I always had a hard time accepting when I did well at something. There was also part of me that would always expect the bubble to burst. The idea of sustained success did not seem realistic to me. So that is something that I had to grapple with in connection with the fear of public speaking.

Fear of Public Speaking Poll

What is your main reason for being fearful of public speaking?

See results

5 Quick Tips in Overcoming the Social Phobias Associated with the Fear of Public Speaking

1.Don't take yourself overly seriously.

2.Learn how to accept constructive criticism. Any other criticism we can just ignore.

3.Continue to try new things. Even if they don't work out we will still learn valuable lessons.

4.Learn how to accept a compliment.

5.Remember your reasons for public speaking. If we care about our subject we will develop the desire to want to share with others.

Thinking Too Much of Ourselves

Each of these four reasons for the fear of public speaking are not only common social phobias, but they share another common thread as well. What is that thread? Each of these fears involve thinking too much of ourselves.

So instead of thinking about our self, we need to think of our audience and the reasons for speaking in public. It also helps if we are passionate about the subject that we are speaking about. When we are truly excited about something, it is hard not to hold back from telling others.

This applies regardless of our reasons for public speaking. For example if we are given a eulogy we want to think about how we feel about our close friend or relative that has died. We also want to think of the audience that is also made up of mourning friends and relatives. The fond memories of the individual and our desire to share these will help us conquer the fear of public speaking.

If it is a sales presentation the same principles applies. We need to think of our audience and why they need our product or services. If we can become excited about our product or services then that enthusiasm is going to become contagious. That natural desire to want to share with others is going to help us to overcome the social phobias that are connected with public speaking.

We barely scratched the surface in connection with public speaking, but by identifying some of the reasons for fear of public speaking, we have taken the first step in overcoming that fear.

Bonus Video: Dwight Schrute's Speech (The Office)

© 2014 Chris Baker

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