Many studies show that fear of public speaking is the most widespread fear in the western world.
In a study conducted in the United States, for example, they took 10,000 people and gave them a list of 50 fears, and asked them to rank what they were most afraid of from 1 to 50. Ranking in first place was – fear of public speaking! Second place was – death… This means more people are afraid of speaking in front of other people than they are of dying.
Seinfeld, the American comedian, joked about it and said that in a funeral, statistically speaking, most people would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy…
Most people aren’t aware that they have a fear of public speaking, and some don’t admit to it. Fear of public speaking is expressed in many ways. Even if you’re used to a certain situation (let’s say one-on-one meetings with people), and you have no fear of public speaking, as soon as I get you out of your “comfort zone” and you come across a situation you’re unfamiliar or unpracticed with (such as lectures in front of many people, meetings with senior ranking officials, marketing meetings in new markets, speaking a language that isn’t your mother tongue), you’ll experience a certain type of fear of public speaking, and you’ll need to start gaining experience all over again in the new situation.
Think about a soccer player, who’s played for the lowest league his entire life, and suddenly his team makes it to the top soccer league – the premier league. He’s playing a game against the champions, in a full stadium and live on TV, for the first time in his life. What happens to many players in such a situation? They play a lot worse than their usual level, because they experience a type of “performance anxiety” or “stage fright”.
Supposedly, you would ask “why?” – I mean, it’s the same grass, the same field, the same ball and the goal is the same size. So what makes the player function less well and suddenly experience “performance anxiety”?
The answer is that the situation was changed – pressure has been added (a game against the champions), there are a lot more viewers (50,000 viewers, as opposed to the 5,000 he was used to up till now), there are cameras now (broadcasting live) that add pressure (and 5 kilos…), and this all leads to a decrease in his capabilities.
The same things happens in speeches, lectures and public speaking situations, and this results in you experiencing different types of fear of public speaking.
So what’s the cure for fear of public speaking?
Preparation and practice.
Preparation – the more you prepare for a public speaking situation – the less stressed you’ll be. Preparation reduces stress.
Practice – the more you practice speaking in the new situation, the better you’ll become at communicating your messages.