How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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It’s difficult for me to write this note because I have kept it a secret for a while, but I am afraid of public speaking – not just speaking to a group of thousands but also standing up in front of a conference room and presenting my ideas. I don’t sleep at all the night before. I stumble over words. Many times someone will ask me if I am feeling alright when it is over. Is there a cure for this? I am over 50 years old and have been like this as long as I can remember.
Fear of public speaking is supposed to be the second most common after the fear of dying (or maybe it is fear of having teeth drilled). In any event, you are talking about a popular fear! In several situations when I’ve worked with advisors to put on events or spearhead meetings, they will share a fear of speaking. Many do not like getting up in front of people and having all of the attention drawn to them, so know you are in good company.
It may sound like odd advice in a well-respected financial magazine, but I recommend you find a good hypnotherapist to work with you. I’ve been certified in hypnosis for over 20 years and public speaking is one area where it works very well. You can learn how to calm yourself and how to picture yourself as successful instead of seizing up and picturing a negative outcome. A good hypnotherapist will help you to learn self-hypnosis (the art of becoming calm without a “guide” to help you) and will probably give you a trigger that you can use every time you need to speak that reminds your mind and body to calm itself down. Check out the National Guild of Hypnotists at ngh.net to find someone near you.
If you don’t want to go that route, other options could include joining a local toastmasters group. I know the quality varies quite a bit from city to city, but I have had many people tell me this was a successful experience for them. It’s not just about fear, but also about learning how to deliver a strong and compelling message. Check out toastmasters.org to see if there is a club near you.
Practice is going to be your best friend. You might shy away from volunteering or doing more speaking than you absolutely have to do. However, this is the opposite of what you need. You want to get out and do as much as you can in as many venues as you can, so you can prove to yourself nothing terrible is going to happen. I realize “just do it” doesn’t help with your emotional response, but practice does help. The more you do it, the more it becomes old hat. Fear grows and becomes more overwhelming when we try and push whatever we are afraid of to the side and just ignore it. Facing the fear and deliberately putting yourself in situations where you have to speak is the only way your skill will improve. The more skill you have, the more confident you become. The more confident, the less afraid. Being able to speak well in a public forum is critical to success in the financial business, as in many businesses. It’s great that you have written and are bringing your fear out into the open – don’t let it go back into hiding.