Insights: Why Are We Afraid to Stand Up and Speak?



from Susan Stewart, Faculty at Speakeasy

Look up “public speaking” on the internet. It will mention it’s still the number one fear among Americans.  Even more than death, starvation, a painful terminal illness and the list goes on and on.  Why is that?

It’s because when you’re asked to stand up and speak, whether in a planned presentation or an impromptu project update, you suddenly realize everyone’s eyes are on you.  You feel vulnerable.  And there’s a feeling inside that’s uncomfortable. You ask yourself: “Do I look right?” You glance again at your attire.  “Will I look stiff and move like a robot as I have before?  Will my voice be strong and steady or weak and too soft when I open my mouth to speak?”

What you want is to be relaxed, comfortable and conversational as if you are talking to friends. If you take the few steps listed below and practice them, you’ll learn how to take control of a stressful situation and turn that “uncomfortable feeling” into something useful the next time you are asked to stand up and speak to a group:

  • First, acknowledge the stress you’re feeling as a normal physical response to the demands of the situation.
  • Then begin to breathe deeply as you pause between sentences.
  • And use the extra energy the “stress” provides by getting your body involved in getting the message across  as you strive to connect with your listeners one at a time, as if you are having a one-on-one conversation with one person, and then another and another…

There’s hope for this fear…in time,you can feel empowered before and during the big talk or presentation, rather than that ever present dread and fear that makes it such a stressful situation for many of us.