Speaking in public is the No. 1 fear of Americans. It surpasses our fear of losing our jobs, losing our relationships and, believe it or not, people write in surveys they fear public speaking even more than death (although I suspect that given a true life and death situation, they could muster the courage to give a little speech). Because speaking in public opens the opportunity for us to be judged by others in a very personal way more so than any other activity we do in life. And it is this fear of being judged that creates anxiety that can be paralyzing at times. Simply put, many of us have a fear of looking foolish, of being laughed at, of making a mistake, of being vulnerable.
Speech anxiety afflicts a great many beginning public speakers. It is not uncommon to find a person who is terrified at the prospect of having to speak at a roomful of people. Oratory skills are highly regarded and many people associate it with intelligence. It comes as no surprise that a lot of people are terrified of looking like a fool in front of everyone. Overcoming speech anxiety, however, is often necessary to become an effective communicator.
Anxiety itself is a predictable and normal reaction to stress, it can help you cope in tense or difficult situations. Everyone has experienced what it feels like to be anxious, the feeling of butterflies in your stomach and your actions become erratic, you can almost hear your heart beat in your ears, you are sweating as if you had just been jogging. This is what you usually feels if you have stage fright and you are required to speak in public, or during a first date. These, among other feelings of anxiety are normal reactions to stress.
Anxiety is actually a good thing, it stirs you up and forces you into action. Anxiety helps you deal with any situation that is normally terrifying, especially if you are doing it the first time. If the Anxiety elevates to excessive, irrational fear of everyday situations, then it has become an immobilizing disorder.
Anxiety Disorder is a completely different condition. With anxiety disorder the feelings of panic can manifest with no reason and at any time, and are out of proportion to the source of the anxiety, if one even exists. This is entirely different from common Speech Anxiety, which we all feel to varying degrees and which with practice can be overcome relatively simply.
Where Does Our Fear Come From?
This, of course, is a hard question to answer. Numerous things may stimulate the fear of public speaking. Gloss phobia or speech anxiety is the fearfulness of public speaking and perhaps related to, or occasionally to include a more intense anxiety disorder. The reasons of this anxiousness are unsuccessful ideas and anxiety-arousing situations. If you or anyone you know is hurting by this phobic disorder for public speaking it merely means that you are fearful about confronting sociable and professional situations in life. If allowed and the anxiety is serious enough, it may interfere with your power to present an adequate speech
For many of us the cause of a moderate to serious fear of speaking in public cannot be associated with anything in particular in our childhood. However for others, it can be traced back to a particular incident that has triggered the symptoms felt when faced with the necessity to speak in public. Some of us can vividly remember a particular incident in our lives where we became very self-conscious and embarrassed for some reason in front of a crowd of people. Often this incident occurred as far back as elementary school when our self-worth and self esteem were just beginning to develop and may not relate to actually speaking in public at all.
For instance, if we were in a situation where we stood embarrassed in front of our schoolmates without saying a word,— that could be it. Even though we were not speaking in public, our brains perceived our fear just standing there in front of other people as we thought that we looked foolish and/or scared. In a nutshell – what happens to some of us during this type of incident is our brain links our intense negative feelings with merely standing in front of other people as they look at us. It almost sounds silly that deep fears that control us as adults often have such trivial moments of creation in childhood. Often they last only a minute, but it is a minute that can last a lifetime. I’m sure the people who initiated these terrible incidents in our lives so many years ago never think back to them or to us for that matter. They have no idea what they said or did during that incident had such a profound and lasting effect on us.
Our fears may only be “in our head” but that’s enough to make us react as we do to speaking in public and other anxiety-prone situations. I’m sure you already realize – it’s pretty difficult to change what’s “in our head” even if we can figure out why it’s “in our head” to begin with and why we react as we do to perceived “threatening situations” such as speaking in public.