The fear of public speaking (sometimes called “glossophobia”) is one of the most common phobias around. While it may be comforting to know you’re not alone, that probably leaves you wondering…how do so many people have the guts to speak on stage at all?
The truth is, many of the best professional speakers still deal with fear every time they get ready to go onstage. The secret to overcoming these fears lies not in eradicating them, but in managing them.
Today we will walk you through surmounting the barrier posed by fear of public speaking as it’s classically understood. But we recognize: you might struggle with anxieties about your speaking career that are unrelated to speaking in front of people. What about those limiting beliefs that hinder you from pursuing your speaking dreams?
Fortunately we’re experts in this business and have solutions for approaching the five most common fears faced by professional and aspiring speakers. We’ll finish off with some tips for turning your “fears” into strengths and an FAQ at the end to help you keep those fears in check.
Overcoming the fear of public speaking
There’s actually some pretty cool biological reasons that so many people are afraid of public speaking. But reading the research might not be super helpful when your palms are sweaty and you’re trembling backstage. Here are some strategies for combating those last second nerves that many speakers have found successful!
Practice makes peaceful.
Banish your childhood piano teacher from your brain because we aren’t worried about practice making “perfect.” But when it comes to speaking, practice does make peaceful–and can fill your performance with confidence and calm.
The goal of rehearsing your talk isn’t memorizing every phrase and gesture impeccably. Rather, you want to feel so comfortable with your content and message that you can be fully present with your audience. If you eliminate worries about what comes next by practicing, your audience will gain the benefit of experiencing the full “you.”
Creating a routine around your speaking engagements that you integrate into your preparation can also help overcome fear of public speaking. Listening to your favorite hype music, eating a certain food, or doing some breathing exercises are all methods used by great speakers to get them in that sweet confidence zone. Figure out what works for you and integrate it into your rehearsals. As you become more comfortable with your talk and your “game day” routine, a lot of the anxiety that makes you freeze up will melt away.
Acknowledge the possibility of failure.
Failure is a possibility no matter what you’re doing. Nothing exciting would ever get done if everyone focused on the possibility of it being a total flop. In fact, many amazing entrepreneurs, inventors, and world-changers totally failed with their first project. Focusing on the potential for failure will only turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fear of public speaking often stems from the feeling that it is inevitable you will embarrass yourself. To an extent, this is true (more about this under fear #2 in the next section). You probably will embarrass yourself at some point! Get comfortable with that possibility and focus on the reality that you will eventually hit a groove where you can succeed, change lives, and even enjoy your time on stage. If you’re truly committed to speaking, the possibility of success far outweighs the possibility of failure.
5 common fears of public speaking and their solutions
Even if practice, routine, and a healthy mindset help you get over your nervousness around speaking in front of people, getting into the speaking business comes with many sources of anxiety. The trick isn’t getting rid of all fears, but learning to live with those fears because you know it’s worth it anyway.
Here are five of the most common speaking fears faced not just by newbies, but by many seasoned professionals. We can’t give you an easy escape. But we can unpack each one and equip you with knowledge that will help you manage it when the going gets tough.
Fear 1: Does my message matter?
Especially when you’re starting out, this question might keep you from amplifying your voice to its fullest potential. You have this message burning within your soul. It’s something you want to get out into the world.
“But,” whispers the nagging voice inside your head, “does anyone really care?”
The answer is: probably, but you have to be willing to experiment and be flexible. Don’t refuse to budge from your initial idea, but don’t give up on it either!
One great way to experiment with how well your message resonates is by starting a blog or similar thought leadership endeavor. Get your thoughts out into the world, build a following, and see how your audience responds. Ask your friends and family for feedback. And…just start speaking.
Getting on stage is the easiest way to find out who wants to hear your message…and if it’s a repeated flop, you know it’s time to re-evaluate and pivot. You might have to use trial and error for a few months as you tailor your message to the needs of your audience. Ultimately, whether your message will succeed is always an educated guess until you actually put it out into the marketplace.
Fear 2: Am I good enough?
Imposter syndrome can creep up at any stage in any career, but it can feel like an insurmountable barrier when it happens at the beginning. With speakers, it often boils down to feeling that you can’t actually impact your audience in the way you hope to.
Overcoming this anxiety requires a mindset shift: you have to acknowledge that there will be an “amateur phase.” In short: you will suck. It is not realistic to expect your first few speaking gigs to have the excellence and impact of a longtime professional speaker, and that’s ok. If you have a true passion for what you’re doing, your enthusiasm will be contagious to the audience even if your speaking performance is mediocre.
That infectious passion will help carry you through the embarrassing moments, the broken projectors, the forgotten punchlines, and all the inevitable times things go wrong. Embrace the reality that you will bomb a few times, don’t compare yourself to people far ahead of you, and focus on spreading a meaningful message.
Fear 3: Can I make a living doing this?
If you have a family to support or a steady day job, speaking might seem like a foolhardy plan that puts every form of stability in jeopardy. Do people make money speaking full time? (They do.)
The cure to this particular fear is honesty. Be honest with your partner and/or family about what sacrifices and risks are acceptable vs. off the table. Be honest with your friends, and acquaintances about your dream to be a speaker, so you can build a network and start booking gigs. Be honest with your boss so you can work out some flexibility in your job to take more speaking engagements. And be honest with yourself: you CAN make a living doing this, but it takes hard work.
If you make a plan and set reasonable expectations, you will eventually see the checks roll in.
Fear 4: What will others think?
Due to public perception of motivational speakers, you might face a lot of pushback if you consider speaking full time. However well-intentioned these family and friends are, it can be very discouraging. Great Aunt Karen only knows speakers who live in a van down by the river, after all!
The best way to address any nervousness or doubt that comes from seeking the approval of others: surround yourself with good people who support you. Don’t spend a lot of time with naysayers. If all your friends are naysayers, find a new group of people that believe in you. That might sound harsh, but often it’s part of the journey of starting a new phase of your life. You and your speaking business are worthy of that support.
Fear 5: Am I alone in this journey?
Because speaking is by nature a solo-preneur business, finding a community of other speakers is key. Even the best speakers have discouraging people in their lives. Even the best speakers made mistakes early in their career. And yes, even the best speakers struggle with a fear of public speaking. Surround yourself with other speakers, whether at in-person groups like Toastmasters, through virtual programs like our Booked & Paid to Speak, or by networking with the other presenters at your events.
One of the most rewarding aspects of becoming a professional speaker is the opportunity to receive from and give back to the speaking community at large. Reading other speakers’ books, listening to their podcasts, and getting lunch with them will elevate your speaking game and support their professional journey as well.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing other speakers as competition. We promise: there are more than enough gigs to go around. Viewing them instead as colleagues will not only massively impact your career journey, but propel you forward when you might otherwise feel alone.
Our podcast co-hosts Grant and Erick break down these five fears at length here.
Turning your fear of public speaking into strength.
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, you can turn your fears and insecurities about public speaking into great strengths. Fear around speaking is not necessarily a big scary phobia that needs a cure! Examining your fears and facing them can help you learn about yourself and your identity.
For example, fear can help focus your attention and remind you how much you care about your message. People rarely feel nervous about something they don’t care about. Your fear is a sign of how deeply you care–be proud of that commitment! Along the same lines, you can use your fears as a source of insight. If you’re struggling to refine your message, your fears might be a good source of information.
One of the best ways to “make it” as a speaker is by tapping into your authentic self. Audiences love a speaker who exudes authenticity. Your fears–whether they’re the same that we listed above or totally different–say a lot about who you are. Rather than muffling those feelings under a facade, lean into them. Learn from them.
Oftentimes, these fears come from misplaced comparison, either to a nonexistent ideal or to someone we look up to. Don’t compare yourself to the image in your head of a super extroverted motivational speaker who has it all together every time! By expressing your genuine self through your message and branding, you will gravitate toward activities with which you are more comfortable. Face your fears, but face them in the way that only you can. Your audience and your business will appreciate it.
We did a podcast with an expert on facing fears and channeling them into an authentic brand. You can listen to it here.
Even the greatest speakers still get nervous before they get on stage. Channeling that nervousness into excitement is a great long-term strategy for maintaining composure when the jitters hit. Remember: speaking is something you love to do. Your fears are not an obstacle, but a reality of the business. The only way to ultimately overcome just about every speaking-related anxiety is through speaking more and more…so get started!
To wrap up, here are some FAQs to keep you confident as you start working with your fears.
How common is fear of public speaking?
Up to 75% of people may struggle with this form of social anxiety. But what’s more important–most successful professional speakers STILL struggle with it. Jitters, anxiety, or fears adjacent to the speaking business are no reason to hold back from your dreams.
Can glossophobia be cured?
The solution to fear is not a magic pill or definitive cure, but learning how to acknowledge and manage your fears in healthy ways.
How do I get over my fear of public speaking?
The best way to conquer nervousness about speaking in front of people is by practice. It won’t make your speech perfect, but it will give you peace and confidence when you go onstage.