How to Overcome the Public Speaking Monster

Stage-Fright, giving a presentation, delivering a speech ... all situations where fear can overwhelm you. So, what can you do?

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The Public Speaking Monster

“Next week I want you to deliver a presentation”, says your boss. A spine-tingling chill runs down your back, your stomach feels like it’s turning inside-out, you swallow deeply, and dread descends upon you with the weight of a thousand eyes. The public speaking monster is now watching you.

Have you ever felt that? Whether you’ve been asked to present a report at work, or your business requires you to deliver the benefits of your services to groups of people, the sheer shuddersome prospect of standing up and speaking, for many, is a fate worse than death. You’re not alone. According to research (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016), 74% of people suffer from a fear of public speaking.

Often called ‘stage fright’, Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. The term is derived from the Greek word glōssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, fear or dread. Hence why so many describe becoming ‘tongue-tied’ as they stand up and begin to talk.

Why does it create so much fear?

Why then does public speaking cause such an intense reaction in so many people? If you know what you’re talking about, what is there to be worried about?

If it were as simple as the imparting of knowledge, then as long as you’re prepared and have done your research, there wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not. The problem lays with the meaning of ‘anxiety’.

To most human beings, falling into a state of anxiety is unbearable. It goes deep to the roots of our survival instincts, where quite literally we enter into the possibilities of a ‘catastrophic’ outcome. Sounds serious doesn’t it. That’s exactly how it's experienced. Renowned neurologist and psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965) described this ‘catastrophic condition’ as being tantamount to a threat to our very existence. Is it any wonder that the fear that arises at the thought of standing up and speaking has such a profound impact!?

So, what can you do.

• First of all, recognise that what you are experiencing is more than just ‘stage-fright’. When you can attribute reasoning behind your reaction, however strong it is, then you can begin to work with it in a purposeful way.

The fear is linked to more than just a fear of standing up and speaking. There is more at stake than what your audience might think of you. It goes much deeper. There is a neurological process occurring between fear and anxiety that far outweighs the situation. This affects how you interpret the act of public speaking, and subsequently link it with danger.

• With that in mind, begin to focus on the present. Move your focused awareness to your presence in the room. Before you speak, get yourself moving if you can, so that you become more connected to your physical experience. In fear, you might find yourself freezing, so you need to get your body moving, so that your mind can follow. Concentrate on your breathing and purposely regulate it.

• Speak to people near to you. This can help bring you out of yourself, and back into the now. It can be all too easy to get psychologically lost in the physical feelings of anxiety and fear, so reconnect with somebody, and talk to them.

Once you become more able to make yourself present and connected before your deliver your presentation, knowing that you aren’t going to disintegrate, even though that’s what your body and mind is telling you, then you can start to focus and gain perspective.

Does this mean that public speaking will become a joyous experience for you? Maybe, maybe not. Some of the world’s top public figures, such as Richard Branson, and Julia Roberts, detest public speaking. Even Aristotle wasn’t a fan!

The key is to keep connected to the now, the present, and to your presence in it. That’s how you nail it!


Dr Tom Barber

Dr Tom Barber has 25 years of experience as an Existential and Integrative Psychotherapist, helping people through a vast array of difficulties. As well as being a bestselling author, his research interests include the study of emotion, and addiction. Tom teaches workshops and lectures throughout the world, and has gained international acclaim for his contributions to psychology, and psychotherapy.