How To Deal With The Fear Of Speaking In Public

by Cheryl Mathews
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If you’re looking to ease your fear of public speaking, you’re likely well aware of the symptoms of fear—rapid heartbeat, sweating, racing thoughts. But how well do you know how fear works?

Fear can be lumped into two categories: first fear—the initial rush of adrenaline prompted by your primitive, emotional brain—and second fear—the self-conscious worrying you do after, powered by your rational brain. Thankfully, you can retrain your brain to experience less fear by learning how you experience fear and how to talk yourself down through a fearful experience.

How to Deal with First Fear

Since this fear is biological, everyone experiences it and you can’t do much to stop it. You can, however, soften the blow of first fear by practicing public speaking over time, and exposing yourself to your fears. Better understanding second fear will help you have more positive public speaking experiences, which in turn results in less intense first fear the next time around.

How to Deal with Second Fear

While this fear utilizes the more advanced and rational side of your brain to ruminate and worry, you may be unaware that you’re actually in charge of these thoughts. You can become more aware of what you say to yourself when you experience fear, and learn how to respond more realistically. The following are the five most common fear thought patterns you likely experience, along with instructions on how to beat them.

1. Seeing Fear as Bad, Always

Fear is natural. In fact, you can get through your speech just fine while experiencing fear. Instead of thinking, “Uh oh, I’m getting nervous,” think something more factual, like, “I know I’ll get a shot of adrenaline, and this is natural. If I don’t add more anxious thoughts, the adrenaline will pass in seconds and I’ll calm down.”

2. Exaggerating Predicted Outcomes

When we’re nervous, we often make negative predictions about how the speech will turn out. You may worry, “this speech will be a disaster.” Instead, replace that with more realistic predictions, like, “There’s a good chance I can do a great job.”

3. Focusing on the Negative, Ignoring the Positive

Our brains are wired to predict danger, and, because of this, we’re predisposed to ignoring positive signs and focusing instead on the negative. When you start worrying that your speech is boring, or that you sound stupid, look around to identify those in the audience who are giving you their full attention. Replace the negative thoughts with a realistic assessment of how your speech has gone overall.

4. Having Unclear Goals

Often, we run into trouble with public speaking when we don’t identify a clear goal. You’re likely to default to vague or unachievable goals, like, “I want everyone to like me,” or, “I want to get every point across perfectly.” Instead, set clear and achievable goals beforehand, like, “explain three key points,” or, “tell the story from start to finish.”

5. Having Unreasonable Standards

There’s also a good chance that, if you struggle with public speaking, you see social rules as inflexible. You may think, “I have to be intelligent,” or, “If I lose my train of thought, I am incompetent.” However, people are very forgiving of social irregularities. Instead, think to yourself, “I don’t have to be intelligent at all times,” or, “My speech can move on if I lose my train of thought.”

Fear Homework

Finally, apply these fear thought patterns to your own experience of public speaking by doing a brief writing exercise. Take out a sheet of paper or open a word processor on your computer.

• Write down two of your worst experiences in public speaking.
• Look back at the fear talk patterns. Write down which ones you used and how they contributed to your fear.
• After each negative self talk experience, write down what you could have done differently to talk to yourself more realistically.

Better yet, join a public speaking phobia workshop where you can practice new thinking patterns with a sensitive coach. With practice, you’ll find that your first fear will grow gentler, and that you’re better able to talk yourself out of second-fear panicking. Best yet, you can use this method for all varieties of fears and phobias, social or otherwise.

Cheryl Mathews founded – a free online platform where you can overcome public speaking anxiety through supportive and gradual exposure. She has her doctorate in Psychology and is a Board Certified Coach. She is also the author of the online, self-paced course Master Your Public Speaking Fear.

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