Why Does Public Speaking Provoke Anxiety?
Public speaking is a very common source of stress in the modern workplace. Whether you work alone or with a sizable number of people, there is a high probability that you will need to speak in public at some point no matter how much you might wish to avoid the experience.
If your career goals include taking a leadership role in your organization, you will almost certainly need to speak regularly to groups, large and small, on your road to achieving them. But why is public speaking so hard and stressful?
What Makes Public Speaking So Stressful
- Stress reaction. When we perceive a situation as threatening or unstable, certain physiological processes kick in instantly to help you escape that danger. This is the well-known “fight or flight response.” In terms of public speaking anxiety, the body releases a pair of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. Our body doesn’t distinguish between the causes of stressful situations, so facing down an audience releases the same hormones as facing down a wild beast.
- Your perception. Perfection is a goal that very few if any, professional public speakers attain. Your audience will not expect perfection and neither should you.
- Your expectations. When you believe that you will succeed and you are already more than halfway there. The negative outcomes you might imagine will rarely if ever, actually occur and even if they do you can use them to your advantage. Humor is a great tool for turning a minor disaster into a memorable teaching moment.
- Self-consciousness in front of large groups. This is probably the most frequently named reason for performance anxiety. Many people are comfortable with very small groups but large groups then anxiety strikes. Try to remember that the people in a sizable audience are exactly the same ones you talk to individually.
- Fear of being judged. The tough-love message here is that people really don’t care about you. They’re in the audience to get something out of your lecture, presentation, speech, or talk.
- Being uncomfortable in your own body. Why is it that so many of us are perfectly at ease physically with friends, but self-conscious and awkward in front of an audience? Pay attention to how you stand, sit, gesture, and move when you’re in a comfortable environment and when you feel at ease. Then recreate that natural movement with larger audiences.
- Fear of competition Competition is a part of life, but it’s a big challenge for those who haven’t experienced facing it often, or who have faced it and haven’t seen positive tables of success. Many times fear of competition is really a fear of perfectionism.
- Fear of succeeding. The Fear of failure and the fear of success are frequently related and have the same anxiety symptoms. However, the fear of success is deeper, and often more subconscious. That’s because success is more complex than failure. It can be more comfortable to stay in a familiar situation, even if it doesn’t feel great on the surface.
Communicating your ideas clearly and presenting them openly in a public forum is an essential component of success across several domains of life. However, public speaking is consistently listed as one of the most common fears people have. It holds many back from reaching their potential.
The good news is that with the right level of motivation, technique, and support you can not only overcome the anxiety and fear of public speaking but actually change that nervous energy to a positive and thrive on stage.
Contact us if you need help solving your pitching, presentation, and communication challenges.