Can public speaking cause anxiety?

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It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and concerned about public speaking

Can public speaking cause anxiety? Hi, I’m Shola. I’m a speaker coach and a professional speaker. And yes, public speaking can cause you to feel anxious and concerned. And it’s quite normal to be perfectly honest, especially when people are starting out. So don’t let it stop you. Now, one of the reasons why people feel anxious about public speaking, and you may have heard that statistic, that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. I’m not sure if that’s so true these days, but anyway, the statistic is out there. But one of the reasons why is because people feel that if they screw up, they will be rejected. And humans have, dating back to when we were cave people many, many, many years ago, there was a time where if your tribe or your clan rejected you, you would be left alone. And almost certainly you would perish, you would die because perhaps a wild animal might find you and eat you for dinner or perhaps you’d have no way of finding some food because you all needed to group together to forage food or to hunt wild animals to eat yourselves.

We have this reaction because we don’t want to be excluded – we’re wired for it

So being left alone basically meant that you would die. And because of that, people had to work well together. They had to do things that supported the group. And if they were seen as being too difficult or cause too many problems, they might be rejected from the group or ostracized from the group. And then they would be left alone and die as I described. So dating back to those fears, we still got a bit in our brain like a sort of, I guess that’s a very old fashioned part of our brain that’s very basic and still has that kind of basic fear within it, that if I screw up, people are going to reject me and then maybe I’m going to die.

Anxiety appears when fear takes hold of our minds

So maybe not saying those words like that in such an obvious way to ourselves, but there’s that fear in the back of our minds. But if we screw up too badly, then awful things are going to happen to us. And so if you think about, okay, what can happen if you screw up a speech, maybe some people are a bit disapproving. Maybe some people don’t take you as seriously as they may have done. Maybe people are really mean they might laugh, but those responses will not lead you to die. However, because we associate being thrown out of the group or rejected with eventual death, we have this unnatural anxiety, this fear of screwing up. And that’s where in many cases, fear of public speaking comes from. So how can we deal with this? Because yes, it can cause anxiety, but there are things that you can do to help that.

There are techniques we can use to calm down

But some people experience really extreme anxiety, that they may need to see a therapist. And if that’s you, then there are many therapists out there who can help. I actually have someone that I can recommend to you. But if you think it’s something that’s not, as you don’t have panic attacks, it’s just something that you think you might be able to manage. You can use techniques like deep breathing to help you. You can use techniques like tapping where you tap. It’s also called EFT, emotional freedom technique where you tap on certain parts of the body while you’re saying certain phrases to yourself. So you can use tapping as well. There’s lots of great books on tapping out there and YouTube videos as well, that you can use to help you.

Preparation reduces feelings of anxiety in public speaking

You can have hypnotherapy, you can just prepare. You can make sure you’re really well prepared. For some people, that’s enough because people often think, “Oh, I don’t want to work on this presentation. I’m going to leave it to the last minute.” And then of course, because they’re not prepared, they’re even more anxious than they need to be. So preparation for many is enough to get rid of or reduce these feelings of anxiety. But the important thing is that if you do feel anxious, that there are solutions and there are ways to deal with it.

My top tip against anxiety: as a speaker your job is to serve your audience

For me, I found that when I have a sip of water, I found that when I first started speaking, one of the things that helped me the most was remembering that I was there to serve the audience. So all too often, we’re thinking that the audience is judging us and I’ve got to do a brilliant job because they’re going to judge me. And most of the time, the audience just want to get value. They want to be, whether it’s entertained or educated or informed, they want to make sure that they get some value from your presentation. So they’re not judging you. They’re not waiting for you to slip up. They’re just hoping that you’ve got something good for them. So if you remember that your job is to serve the audience and to give them a good time and give them what they need, then that deflects the attention away from you and onto them. And the spotlight really should be on them because they’re the reason that you’re speaking in the first place. So if you think about that, deflecting the spotlight from you to them, or thinking about being there, to serve, looking into techniques like tapping or hypnotherapy or deep breathing, all of those can help to reduce that anxiety that you might feel around public speaking. Hope that helps and good luck. Take care.

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Shola Kaye is an award-winning speaker, author and professional speaker coach with clients around the world. Her work has been mentioned in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and on the BBC.
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