Acknowledging Fear

Public speaker holding hands in front of face.
What scares people the most about public speaking? The bullet points below outline common fears people share about public speaking:

  • Fear of eye contact. Most people have a natural desire to avoid being the center of attention within a crowd, and if and when that moment strikes, it can feel very unnerving.
  • Fear of failure. Similarly, making a fool of oneself presents an almost equally daunting phobia.
  • Traumatic public speaking experience. Many students can vividly recount stories where they botched a presentation in front of their peers, effectively creating a mental block, often leading to higher-than-average anxiety when faced with the prospect of public speaking.
  • Clinical anxiety. Some rare individuals have cases of extreme anxiety in any social situation due to social, biological, or a variety of different reasons. For these individuals, public speaking may seem to present an insurmountable challenge.

why fear public speakingMost people possess not merely one of these fears, but combinations of them (or, in the worst-case scenario, all of them). Regardless, the most important place for individuals to start in learning to cope with these fears (and later, use them to their advantage) is to recognize their onset and acknowledge their existence. Novice speakers can sabotage their chances for success by ignoring these fears or pretending they will not affect their performance—because they most certainly will. Ignoring these fears can lead to a false sense of confidence, allowing them to creep up and strike at the worst possible moment.

All too often, novice speakers make the mistake of thinking they need to conquer or overcome their fear, but that type of thinking can set a speaker up for failure. Fear is a necessary component of public speaking. Fear is part of what makes a human human. It can keep people alert and provide them with necessary energy. Above all, it makes the speaker care about how well he or she perform. In public speaking an old saying goes: “Speakers who say they are as cool as a cucumber usually give speeches about as interesting as a cucumber.” Overconfidence has probably flattened more potentially interesting and engaging speeches than nervousness ever has.

Note to Self

Instead of avoiding nervousness, practice strategies for coping with stressors, redirecting these energies to more useful outlets, and learning to use them to your advantage.

The following sections detail various strategies and techniques for coping with anxiety, as well as providing useful tactics to redirect this nervous energy into a more positive outcome.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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