Reasons why people fear public speaking

The 3 main reasons people fear public speaking

I’m currently in the process of writing my 3rd book, The Unnatural Public Speaker. As it’s name suggests, it will be aimed at people that don’t find public speaking easy, and I’ve just finished the ‘Facing the Fear of Public Speaking’ chapter, so I thought I’d share a little excerpt here in this article.

As part of the research on this chapter, I did a few LinkedIn polls asking what it was about public speaking that caused them to fear it the most. Here, in countdown order, are the top 3 answers:

3. Worrying what people think of me

The irony of this one is that while you might be worrying about what people think of you – they generally really don’t think about that! In most cases, people are far more worried about their own lives and problems.

Indeed, in some situations where you will likely be speaking – for example at a networking meeting – you will get a generally supportive audience. Not only are they very unlikely to think negatively of you, they’ll actually be willing you on to succeed.

Clearly other speaking situations are not always going to be friendly – but the more you can tell yourself that you are in front of them on merit the better. You were invited to speak to them today – even if you put yourself forward, someone accepted your offer.  

2. Thinking that what you’re saying is boring

The simple answer here is – don’t be boring! But yes, I appreciate you’re probably looking for more than that…

There’s not enough room to expand on these here (you’ll have to wait until the book comes out!), but if you can: 

a)   Use stories you’ll immediately be more engaging and less boring because people love hearing stories

b)   Structure your talk effectively – if the audience can follow where you’re going, they’ll stay engaged

c)    Connect with your audience. If they ‘like’ you, they’ll more likely be interested in hearing what you’ve got to say.

But it’s also worth remembering what the question was here: what causes you to fear public speaking the most? Let’s just translate the 2nd most common answer for clarity: me thinking that what I’m saying is boring. Not the audience. It certainly doesn’t suggest that what you’re actually saying is boring.

As such, if this affects you, the answers may well be found in your past. What makes you think you’re boring? Did some previous boss or an old school teacher make some flippant remark in a certain situation that actually has no relevance to what you’re doing now? Was there some prior experience you can compartmentalise and put aside to allow you to move forward?

1. Forgetting your script

Nearly half (43%) of people responded ‘Forgetting your Script’ – so I’m not going to belittle this – it’s clearly an issue. Here’s a couple of thoughts that might help you if you’re concerned about forgetting your words.

The first thing to remember is that your audience doesn’t know what you’re going to say. They have no idea if you’ve stuck to your script! So as long as you keep going, and don’t stumble over what you’re saying when your mind goes blank – the audience aren’t going to know.

Secondly, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have some notes with you. Clearly, you don’t want to be reading the script out verbatim: that really would be boring. But having your main topic headings as bullet points on a piece of paper / cue card in front of you is absolutely fine.

Lastly, the more you practice, the less likely it will be you forget what you were going to say. When doing a talk, it’s inevitable that we’ll compare ourselves to professional speakers that are at the top of their game. After all – we’ll always model ourselves on the best. When you see a professional speaker deliver their talk, it just seems word-perfect: they don’t have any notes, the slides change right on cue, and they pause at all the right places. This is because they have practiced. They’ll have delivered that talk tens, if not hundreds of times. That’s why it feels natural.