Why is public speaking considered the #1 fear?
There are various opinions. For years, I believed that there are two reasons:
- A bad experience
- Society has convinced us to be afraid
On the surface, this fear makes no sense. Every day, we engage in one-on-one conversation, or in small groups – at work, in social gatherings, or over a meal. Those situations typically don’t create fear of speaking.
Science has now provided proof of this fear, and the reasons it exists.
You’ll notice that there is a combination of reasons that people fear public speaking – personal experience, physiological, or emotional reasons.
One of the best explanations I’ve ever read comes from Scott Berkun, author of Confessions of a Public Speaker.
His ideas can best be summarized with the acronym AWOL (no, not the military version of Absent Without Official Leave)
Mr. Berkun points out that, in order to survive, our earliest ancestors had to live closely together in packs, typically in camouflaged areas, caves, or in a forest. When an individual strayed from the group, s/he was AWOL:
A – Alone, W – Without a Weapon, O – Out in the Open, and L – Looked at by Large groups of potential predators.
What is public speaking?
Alone in front of an audience; Without a Weapon (no, a microphone doesn’t count), Out in an Open area, and being Looked at by a large group. At a deep level, we’re conditioned to feel as if we’re being stalked by predators when we’re speaking to a group.
Keep in mind, this is a hypothesis, but it’s well-thought out, and makes sense. To read my previous blog about the AWOL concept, click here.
How do you overcome this challenge?
There are several opinions. I believe the most important is to keep your perspective.
When you put your heart and soul into a presentation, it’s easy to lose sight this fact: the audience is going to hear you for just a few minutes. They don’t know the blood, sweat and toil that goes into your talk. If you do well, you’ll make an impact. You might change the way they think, feel or act. Other than that, they’re not going to give your speech a second thought. They’ve got too many other issues to think about the moment you walk off the platform.
By no means am I saying your speech isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t give the best possible presentation. This is just a reminder that, in the big picture, you’re probably not going to inspire a major life change in most of your audience.
Along those lines, keep in mind that your presentation will not change the course of world history. You can inspire change, but even that may be gradual. Be grateful for the chance to speak and offer a fresh perspective. Once you’ve spoken, the message is out of your hands. It’s the responsibility of the audience to do what they will with it.
One last thought to consider. Speaking before any audience is a privilege. If you weren’t speaking to the audience, someone else would be! That person wouldn’t give your point-of-view, or might not deliver it as charismatically as you, but s/he would be willing to take your spot.
Want to manage fear of speaking. Keep it in perspective. Prepare, give your best effort, focus all of your attention and energy on the benefit you bring the audience.
Do this, and you’ll manage your fear of public speaking.
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