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How Urgent Is It to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in Public, in Front of a Group, at Work, or Within Civic Society?

Updated on October 31, 2018
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Patty Florence graduated UIS in 2005. Since graduation, she studied on sibling rivalry because it was not wide spread at the time for kids | Source

Most people surveyed on the subject of “fear of speaking” could not relate to the subjective nature of the word fear. Fear is not something that can be easily generalized, specifically because it embodies disturbing emotions. Most people prefer not to deal with fear, yet deal with it one must for the sake of argument. Why fear when one does what is right or good? Just as the good Samaritan helped the person bruised and battered by paying his room and board, while others walked to the other side of the road.

Dwyer and Davidson's, Dwyer, K.K., & Davidson, M.M. (2012). Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death? Communication Research Reports, 29 (99-107), article tells about a survey of the fear of public speaking. The study by R.H. Bruskin Associate's American Fears in 1973 and published in the London Sunday Times was conducted at a Midwestern University in a classroom with students who never spoke in front of an audience. The students were asked what they feared the most with fear the most common of the fourteen fears listed on the survey. According to the London Sunday Times, and a survey by market researchers on October 7, 1973, speaking before a group was their greatest fear. A number of professionals such as speech teachers, publishers, and consultants believed that speaking in front of other people was worse that death.

R.H.Bruskin's survey with a list of l4 fears has been contested as to its validity, despite its many usages in communicative studies. Spectra (the Speech Communication Association) queried about the survey and asked “How reputable was the findings of the source, and can it be used in today's Communicative studies? (Dwyer & Davidson (100).”

Dwyer and Davidson (2012) admonishes speaking in public causes some debilitating disorders (100). Communication-based anxiety can heighten a person's physical arousal, negative thought processes, and nervousness. Why do persons avoid speaking in public? Is it because they get so nervous? Something so uniquely frightening that talking in front of a group can change a person's level of confidence? Even people with outgoing personalities and confidence can struggle with anxiety. Public speaking is a skill that takes practice to increase ability, comfort, and confidence (

Preparation lengthens the person's ability to speak in a public setting. The preparation of the speech, the decision of what to prepare for in speaking, speaking in front of the mirror ahead of time, or looking ahead by practicing your performance, increases your level of effective speech. If the day approaches, the speaker is well prepared and confident, yet the audience does not take well to the performance, a fear of phobia could develop that worsens fear; and is a problem well known in the U.S. Phobias and fears are not related, phobias are more intense and specific to a person's emotions in a person's life. Public speaking is relational to communication, and over 70% of people who experience fear, also experience apprehension (Dwyer & Davidson (100).

How does one overcome the fear of speaking when the audience refuses to listen? Knowing that preparation is key could save a person's feelings from a disastrous situation. In the book Talking Straight Responsibly by Loretta Malandro, PhD (2009) states some reasons why persons fear to speak publicly is to avoid discomforting situations of confronting ideas that may seem normal, but turn out as unsafe territory (199). Persons who hold back their real thoughts and feelings, or keep their feelings to themselves, only want certain persons to hear. Or, persons who think they are communicating effectively may communicate what they think the audience wants to hear. There are persons who tell their audience only what they want to hear, are telling half-truths, and leaving out certain information.

Malandro, L. (2009),Talking Straight Responsibly. Fearless Leadership. (199-218). Library of Congress. McGraw Hill Publishing, asks “Do you want your audience to talk straight with you and provide candid feedback? Most leaders responded yes to the first question. When it was time to ask “Do you talk straight to your audience?”, most had excuses.

“I don't want to damage the relationship. I don't want to hurt people.

Talking straight in our company is a career-limiting move (201).

Talking straight and in a timely manner decreases uncertainty and unproductive hours reducing the need to treat anxiety. To overcome challenges of speaking, one has to follow their path of expressed emotions that they are committed to for a worry free environment. In the right circumstances and the right times, people are more trustworthy. When uncertainty abounds, leaders and speakers have the functional capacity to think without expressed emotions and this makes a speaking style stale. When speakers waste potential minutes speaking against issues that they are not able to change, an art of argument becomes the style with only a 50% chance of winning the argument.

Straight talk about gossip conversation explains the concept of knowing clues about your higher authority, boss, the work place. Persons are observed in these behaviors all of the time. They observe concerns, frustrations, stress, and emotions. Malandro, L. PhD (2009) states the importance of avoiding negative feedback by being honest and straightforward in speech and conversations (207-208). Also, to avoid distilling confidential information and provide the information needed to close gaps of uncertainty. And, avoid postponing important communication and continue to believe that this is an effective way to communicating (talking straight). Fear of speaking when there is not enough information, or a speaker not wanting to harm others, is trying to avoid a bigger problem. Fear of saying the wrong thing, or what is said comes out the wrong way, has a negative impact such that those words cannot be taken back (204).

Public speakers (Fitzgerald and Polk (2012) need qualities that are genuine and human ( Before speaking, be sure to get there early and greet people so that persons familiar can help calm the anxiety and fear. Taming stage fright helps when the focus is on the audience and not on fears. Knowing the subject matter lets your expertise show. Visualizing how to present to your audience calms and relaxes the nervousness. Try not to smoke or drink too much caffeine. Make sure that your audience notices your user-friendly smile. Stay as confident and patient as possible, especially if this is your first speaking engagement.

pexels-photo-695571 | Source

People listen more to speakers who are emotionally honest which gives them power. When a persons is honest he or she can argue from others points of view. Speakers who speak from the heart are more believable than speakers who speak from the head. Speakers who use their experiences can talk about real issues. Audiences are more apt to transform and sit on the edge of their seats.

Speakers need precise speech avoiding generalizations such as everybody or everyone. Words taken literally can cause members in the audience to not get the right message. Words used unintentionally, or poorly chosen phrases, can cause apprehension or misinterpretations.

The fear of speaking is present in other ways other than with audiences. According to Patrick Butler, and editor on the website “the guardian” talks about charities.

“But that's what we're here for, to be conscience of the government and society, and there seems little point in doing this if we don't give voice to the suffering and needs of the people who can't speak for themselves(”.

Some charities who campaign on public policy feared speaking out for the people who are vulnerable because of gagging clauses in contracts, and “attacks by ministers of volunteer organization's freedom of expression” an inquiry announced, stating non-governmental support could silence those most vulnerable members. Government coalitions supportive at first, to allow charities a bigger role as providers in volunteer organizations, are becoming “contemptuous” in supporting those organizations when they speak out for “injustice and inequality”.

Sir Roger Singleton, a former CEO of a children's charity Barnardo's states “Without this we may see the voice of the vulnerable and marginalized being silenced, democracy being eroded and society impoverished.” He feels government should uphold their promise by taking action to keep voluntary sector independence and from losing their funding.

The argument is that the persons in the governmental role is using threats and the withdrawal of funding in order to control the charities and ensure that the public services remain self-serving by perpetuating the time honored tradition where the needs of the public they serve remain a side issue.

A report from the Department of Community & Local Government in December 2012 advised local authorities of those “fake charities” states:

“It is right that charities should only pursue campaigning on political activities in support of their charitable purpose, but it is also important in that context to recognize their ability to protest and campaign is a key expression of the independence of charities. Maintaining a diversity of voices, especially on behalf of the most disadvantaged in our society, is vital to a healthy democracy.” Gareth Thomas, a shadow minister states:

“A climate of fear exists in some parts of the third sector. Of the health of democracy it needs to be sorted as a matter of urgency.”


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