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The Causes of Public Speaking Fears

Updated on January 16, 2014

Do you know that knowing the causes of public speaking fears puts you 50% ahead of others who don’t?

How do I mean? OK, I’ll explain.

I strongly believe that any problem or challenge of which the causes are known is already half-solved. That is, knowing the causes of your problem means you already have 50% of the solution right in your hands!

If you find this hard to believe, then consider this example:

Suppose a farmer gets to his farm one morning and finds a good number of his livestock dead. How does he prevent the others from dying if he doesn't know the cause of the sudden death? That will be a big dilemma! Isn't it?

First, he needs to unravel the cause of the death before ever knowing how to prevent it.

But imagine that he knows the cause of the death. Then the first part of the puzzle is solved and the solution is just around the corner. He attacks the cause and further deaths are prevented. Pure and simple!

You now see what I mean?

This also applies to public speaking fears. So the very first step in dealing with the fear of public speaking is to know its causes.


The good news is that you don’t have to rack your brains for the causes of speech anxiety. I have already done all the work for you by compiling the fundamental causes of public speaking fears.

Just settle down and read along.

Fundamental Causes of Public Speaking Fears

This compilation is borne out of my years of experience in public speaking and more especially, from interviewing a wide range of people who at one time or the other battled with stage fright.

Hence, pick a piece of paper and a pen and let’s get started...

1. Fear of Rejection

Interestingly, this is one of the most frequently cited causes of public speaking fears by those I interviewed. ‘Fear of goofing’, ‘I want to be on point’, ‘I don’t want to make mistakes’ were some of their words.

Such feelings are natural as none of us wants to be rejected. We all want to be accepted by those we consider important. As a result, whenever we are faced with the prospect of giving a speech, we are immediately hit by thoughts of how we can create a good impression of ourselves. The mind also starts worrying about how our listeners will perceive and appraise our presentation.

With this in mind, instead of concentrating on the task at hand, many of us allow ourselves to be enveloped by all sorts of imaginable fears. We fear the audience may dislike our presentation. We fear we may commit serious blunders. We fear we may just disappoint ourselves and others. All these ‘wagging war’ in our heads naturally lead to nervousness.

This is understandable because all of us have worked hard to create an image of ourselves. And instead of ruining that image, most of us rather prefer to keep shut, sit down and watch others do the talking. Why? Because we fear rejection!

2. Lack of Preparation

This also ranks high amongst the reasons of speech anxiety. The level of your preparation determines the level of your success. It is just like what is said in the computer world: "Garbage in, garbage out". Shabby preparation, wishy-washy presentation! If you fail to prepare, it is only normal that you are preparing to fail. It’s the bitter truth!

I have realized that too many people hardly prepare enough for their speeches. This is often because they don’t start their preparation early. So they resort to a last minute approach.

This last minute approach only heightens the nervousness inherent in everyone!

3. Lack of Confidence in Your Ability

Many people simply lack the confidence in their ability to face the crowd. They believe they don’t have the skills and ability to speak publicly.

Therefore, when they find themselves standing before an audience, this lack of confidence only creates a vacuum that is filled by public speaking anxiety!

Ironically, most times these very ones have what is takes to be excellent public speakers. They just don't believe in themselves!

4. Lack of Confidence in Your Topic

This may be caused by inadequate knowledge of your topic. It may also be caused by not having a strong conviction that the topic can achieve the desired result. It is only reasonable that if you don’t know your topic well, you will lack confidence in it.

In turn, you won’t be able to present the topic with the needed conviction. And you will be afraid that your audience will notice it. You will be also afraid of being asked questions you may be unable to answer. The result is pure public speaking anxiety!

5. Negative Thinking

This is what I call the ‘what if’ effect. From the moment of being informed that they would give a public talk, most people are bombarded by a whole lot of ‘what if questions’ borne out of negative thinking.

‘What if I blank out during my talk?’ ‘What if the audience boos me?’ ‘What if there are sudden technical issues?’ ‘What if I slip as I mount the stage?’ ‘What if there are hecklers in the audience?’ ‘What if I can’t answer questions convincingly?’ ‘What if…’ This goes on and on!

True, a mild dose of such concerns is good. It keeps you in check and reminds you of the need to prepare (even for exigencies). However, dwelling excessively on such ‘negatives’ will only lead to public speaking fears.

6. Unpleasant Past Experience

Some people suffer from public speaking fears because of an unpleasant occurrence in the past. Such ones might have had a bad day in public speaking in the past. This serves as a hindrance each time they are faced with the prospect of standing before another group of people.

I don’t blame them really. Who would have his/her fingers burnt badly and wouldn't be afraid of fire? Anyone? But I do blame them for allowing such experience(s) to be a permanent hindrance!

7. Misplaced Perspective

To me, this is a self-inflicted fear of public speaking. I say so because this is a public speaking fear you bring upon yourself by having a wrong perspective of public speaking. Many people believe that for them to be successful in public speaking they must be like so and so instead of themselves.

In trying to be like someone else, you’ll only pick up heaps upon heaps of public speaking fears!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn't learn from others. I’m only saying be yourself!

8. Natural Disabilities/Disorders

Some people fear public speaking because they have some natural disabilities or disorders. Some suffer from stammering and other speech impediments. Some battle with shyness, inferiority complex, social anxiety disorder (SAD) etc. Natural limitations such as these lead to public speaking fears.

Does any of these apply to you?

Congratulations! Wondering why I said that?

You just solved the first part of your public speaking anxiety problem…Because you now know the fundamental causes of public speaking fears!

The next step is to examine how you can overcome the fear of public speaking. This becomes easier now that you've known the root causes.

All you need to do is to read and apply the simple but hot tips on overcoming fear of public speaking you’ll find here.

Enjoy it.


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    • James Kudooski profile imageAUTHOR

      James Kudooski 

      8 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Hi Speakinginfront, thank you for your insightful

      comment. I quite agree with you. However, I hope to write about 'audience contact' in public speaking soon and how this can be done effectively. Be on the look out. Thanks once again. Cheers.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      James, can I add another cause which I think is fundamental?

      It is understanding blank faces which I think relates to your "fear of rejection" but I think adds a whole heap of misery on to it.

      As a speaker if we are not careful we carry on using normal conversational skills when we are speaking to a group.

      When you have a standard conversation - you normally get nods, smiles, agreements back from the listener however when we speak to a group ALL that changes. All you see is blank faces.

      So we start speaking to blank faces and they don't usually smile (at least not very often) or nod their heads (some people will but again not a lot) so we are left struggling with critical thoughts about our performance. But blank faces are normal in audience - they are just listening faces.

      So try not to read people's faces when you speak publicly because your brain will interpret any sign as negative.

      Of course there is more to getting your head around public speaking but when I teach public speaking this is the point that helps a lot of people. I teach about 40 courses a year for people who don't like public speaking

      thanks for letting me post

      John Dawson


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