Fear is both our best friend and worst enemy.
When there’s a real threat, fear can save our lives. Our fight or flight response kicks in, and gives us a better chance of surviving.
So why do we feel afraid to speak in public? And can understanding our fear help us to become better speakers?
Understanding why we’re afraid to do something helps to put the fear into perspective. It shines a light on why we are afraid to stand before an audience.
Here’s some reasons why we’re afraid to speak in public.
Performance and fear
One reason is performance anxiety. If we didn’t care about our performance, we would simply get up and deliver. It would be like any other activity that we don’t care about. If someone told you to flip a coin to see if heads or tails came up, you wouldn’t feel any anxiety at all.
But if someone told you to flip the coin – and your life depended on it coming up heads – then your relationship to the experience would be completely different.
But here’s the good news about public speaking: your life doesn’t depend on it. In fact, the audience wants you to do well. Audiences don’t turn up to see you fail. They want to see you succeed.
Biology and unfamiliarity
Scientists have wondered if there’s a biological reason as to why we’re afraid to speak in public. One groundbreaking study concluded that being the ‘center of attention has an unfortunate adaptive effect—we become super-alert to the presence of angry faces.’
Part of our brain kicks in and becomes hyper-aware that we may be under attack. Of course, the opposite is correct most of the time. The only time the audience might be hostile is if you’re in the middle of a debate or public forum. Even here, there are rules that moderate what can and can’t happen.
You’re not going to die!
Childhood and fear
The other reason why we feel fear is because of childhood experiences. Most of us first got up to speak when we were kids. We had little or no training in how to present, and crowds of kids are vicious! That classroom of laughing faces can haunt us for a lifetime.
Or, we can do something about it.
Do you really want something that happened at age ten to affect you fifty years later? Why should this, or anything else like performance anxiety or unfamiliarity in an environment stop you from being the best you can be?
There are plenty of posts here on the website that I’ve written to help you overcome your fear.
Don’t let your fear hold you back. It was Dale Cargenie who said:
'Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.'
It’s often easier than you think to overcome your fear of public speaking. Don’t let fear hold you back from being your very best.