When I talk to people about public speaking anxiety they often say "I think it's just me that seems to feel like this". It's not just them.
Over the last ten years I've made lots of notes on what people say about the fear of public speaking. The phrases below are taken from my public speaking courses. At the beginning of the day I ask "What gets in the way for you when you think of public speaking or you actually are speaking? There is a wide range of answers including "I think the audience will kill me" to "my hands are huge". It's a very long list and they are all in our heads!
The list for me is fascinating - it gives an insight into what it means to be human because clearly lots of people are thinking the same things. So can I calm you a little by saying this is a collection of what around a thousand people have said, not just one person! Of course a lot of similar phrases get repeated in many courses and this list is not exhaustive.
By far the biggest section of these fears is around shame, perfectionism, being self-conscious and being afraid of other people's judgements. We seem to carry a strong belief that we are no good, we are not worthy, which translates into the thought "If I go out in front of an audience all of my shame will be revealed, everyone will see I'm no good." It's not true but that's what many many of us think.
These fears can be strong or overwhelming or they can just be in the background but they do make public speaking an anxious time for lots of people. So learning to feel comfortable in public speaking clearly isn't about "keeping your chin up" or "practice, practice, practice" . We need first to understand our patterns of thinking that produce these fears. We create our very own storm of worry and anxiety. Through evolution our human brain is really good at looking for threat and sniffs out threat when it really isn't there. That's why learning about our own wonky evolutionary brain, trying out new ways of seeing ourselves, and to explore the new skills we need to go along with these learnings can create a big shift in how people experience public speaking. You can change how you feel. No worries, mate.
is your worry here? the public speaking anxiety list
Adrenaline and Physical
Being physically awkward, Bits of my body act strangely, Brain freeze – Brain Blank, Crying, Cursing the amount of adrenaline, Dry mouth, Drying up and going sweaty, Flushing, Freeze, Going red, Hands are bigger than normal, Heart racing, Hyperventilating, I feel uptight, Leg shaking, Memory fails, Red face, Shaking, Shallow breathing, Sweating in strange places, Throat tightens, Tight chest, Uncontrollable arms, Vision decreases, Voice gets quieter
Dread – full of dread, Going to fail, I cry, I get alert about panic – and create panic within myself, I just die, Lose control, Nausea, Pressure, Restlessness, The pack (the audience) will turn on me, Trapped nowhere to hide,
Bad memories, Bizarre thoughts – I have, Fantasy of it before – going over and over it in my mind, I become someone else – Mr nervous guy, Negative self-talk, Nothing you can do, Overwhelmed, Poison from inner critic, What if’ing,
Great expectations on me, Harming my career, I will be the only one talking, I will get difficult questions, Scared of fear, Taking our life in our hands, Tears – I will cry,
Can’t do it, I didn’t apply for that job because of the presentations at the interview, I swapped courses at university and ended up doing something I hated just to get out of speaking, I want to walk away, If I choke on this sweet I won’t have to do it , If I die I will miss it,
A question caught me out, I fainted when I did a presentation, I had to run out of the room, I just froze, I just left the job, I really messed up and it all went wrong, Memories come back of bad times, Someone heckled me 20 years ago,
Extraordinary potential for failure, Fear of fear, Fear of losing control, Fear of people, Fear of questions, Fear of rambling, Fear of reputation, Fear of talking rubbish, I worry that I be like a runaway train, One mistake and that’s me done forever, One single person doesn’t like it – that floors me, Scared of being terrified, Will they kill me?, Will they like me?, Worried about forgetting,
Shame & Judgement
1. I am not good enough
Always think the worst of myself, Am I wearing the right clothes?, Annihilation , , Audience is judging me, Could be used against you, Disappointed in my self, Doubt what I know, Envy of people who can do it, Everyone else is better, Fear of being seen to be a fool, I am boring, I am crap, I am no good, I am not worthy, I feel intimidated, I have to be in control, I have to be more interesting, I have to be perfect, I should be better than I am, I will fail, I’m boring, I am not as good as others, I’m not good enough, I’m not ok, Judging ourselves,, You might see me fail,
2. Chasing perfection
By now I should have got it, Comparing myself, Expert – I have to be an expert, Got to entertain, Huge Expectations on me, I have to be relevant, important and engaging, I have to get it together, Perfect - I have to be perfect to present, Pressure to perform.
3. Overly Self-conscious
Conscious of my breathing, I care too much, I feel removed and exposed, Isolated, Pauses seem very long – my pauses, Self takes centre stage, Self-conscious, Separate, Standing out from the crowd, Voice isn’t powerful, What do I look like?, Whatever the evidence is – it’s always terrible,
4. Other people judgements
Be laughed at, Being the centre of attention – everyone looking at me, Embarrassment about nerves, Hostile audience, I am transparent – they will see through me, I will be heckled, No longer part of the tribe, No one is listening, Not expert enough, Risk looking stupid, Risk of being ostracised, There will be a creep in the audience making a pass at me, They all know I’m crap…. Boring…no good, They want to see me fail, They will find me out, They will see that I am nervous, They will spot my weakness, They won’t want to hear what I have to say, Weight of expectations from others, What will they think of me?