Fear of Public Speaking

We’ve all read that public speaking is a person’s number one fear, even greater than the fear of death.  Well that’s not true.  It’s not even our second worst fear.  Or our third.

In my research, I pointed a gun at 100 people and said, “Give a speech or I’ll shoot you.”  They all gave a speech.

The, after I got out of jail, I asked another group, “Give a speech naked or I’ll shoot you.”  And they all said, “Shoot me.”  Of course I didn’t.  It was just research.

Seriously though, I submit there are at least three things that are higher on the fear list than giving a speech:

1.  Death.  Really.  For most of us, we’d almost do almost anything to avoid death.

2.  Public nudity.  Well, it’s our culture.

3.  Singing in public.  Most people would rather give a speech than sing a song in front of an audience.

4.  Going to the dentist or having surgery. 

5.  Giving a humorous speech.  For most people, this ranks higher on the fear-scale than just “giving a speech.”

The truth is, the number one fear of most people is:  Singing a humorous song in front of an audience while naked and dying from a heart attack because you knew that you had a dentist appointment in the morning.

There are many things I’d put higher on my list-of-fears than giving a speech.  Of course, I’m not a normal person.  But then neither are you.  We’re all unique.  Your list of fears won’t exactly match mine or those of your friends.  We’ve all had different experiences that have shaped what we enjoy doing and what we fear doing.  Some people love jumping out of airplanes.  Some love giving a speech.  The experiences you have today will shape the person you are tomorrow.

My journey to where I am now as a public speaker, began as a Freshman in high school.  I don’t know why, but I signed up for our High School’s Public Speaking Class which was otherwise attended entirely by Juniors and Seniors.  With no experience as a speaker, I was thrown into the arena at an earlier age than most and probably benefited from it.

I really didn’t do anything with my public speaking until I was twenty-five years old.  At the time I was in the US Air Force and was invited to a Toastmasters Meeting.  I joined.  And I’m still a member and regularly attend my club meetings.  That step, more than anything else, has pretty much eliminated my fear of speaking.  Sure, I get some butterflies from time to time.  But for the most part, getting up to give a speech is a positive and energizing experience.  If you’re not in Toastmasters, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Then when I was 37, a Toastmasters friend suggested that I join the National Speakers Association.  She had watched me win three Toastmaster District Speech Contests and thought that I belonged in NSA.  So I joined.  It was the step to becoming a more professional speaker.

When I was 48, two friends called, within the same week, to invite me to a couple of improv events.  I joined one of them in northern California and one in Santa Barbara for my first exposures to improv.  I had never even been to an improv show before.  A month later I was enrolled in an improv class.  Three months later I started my own troupe.  It’s the single most exciting thing I’ve done to improve my speaking skills.

Along the way, I’ve had Alexander Lessons, Acting Classes, Directing Classes, Dance Classes, Magic Conventions, Singing Lessons, and more.  Each experience has made me a better speaker.

What next step would take you down the path of better speaking skills?  Be committed to taking YOUR next step.  We all grow in baby steps and it’s our commitment and persistence that helps us overcome our fears and fulfill our highest potential.  Be a lifetime student and take your next step.