“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two? Does that seem right? To the average person that means that if they have to go to a funeral, they’d be better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.”
-Jerry Seinfeld

When you ask people what they fear most about giving a speech, they list any number of reasons.

Here are the most common reasons people list for being afraid of public speaking with suggestions for what to do to overcome that fear.

1. “I’ll be boring.”

If you’re not boring in real life, there’s no reason for you to be boring as a speaker. Fear is the culprit. It makes you self-protective. When you’re afraid, you draw back into yourself. Your focus narrows to what is immediately around you, and all you can think about is survival. You lose your creativity, spontaneity, and humor. Control your nervousness, and your natural liveliness will surface.

2. “People will laugh at me.”

If you do or say something that amuses people, they will laugh — even if you don’t want them to. So laugh with them. Then they’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you. And they’ll love you for it. Laughter is the most potent antidote to fear. While fear shuts you down and makes you cower in the corner, laughter pumps you up and gets you energized.

3. “People will see how nervous I am.”

So what? People expect you to be nervous. Being nervous is only a problem if you’re so nervous that you make the audience nervous. Don’t call attention to your nervousness. Just go on with your speech.

4. “I’ll forget my next point.”

Since so many speakers do forget their next point, there are lots of strategies to compensate for it.

  • While preparing your presentation make sure your main points flow logically from one to another. Make the connections really tight.
  • Take a moment, take a breath, and think. If you give yourself half a chance you’ll probably remember what you were going to say.
  • Back up and try again. Repeat the previous point, the one you just summarized. Doing so will often lead you on to the next point.
  • Refer to your notes. Even if you speak without a podium, keep your notes nearby. They’re your security blanket.
  • Tell your audience you’ve drawn a blank. They’ll understand, and their understanding will make you relax, which in turn will help you remember. Ask, “Where was I?” and someone will tell you.

5. “I won’t be able to answer people’s questions.”

You don’t have to have all the answers. You just have to know how to get the answers so you can say, “You’ve stumped me. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know how to find it. If you give me your business card, I promise I’ll get back to you with what you want to know.”

6. “I’ll freeze.”

This is most people’s biggest fear. You’re standing before a room full of people and you freeze. Your mind goes blank. You can’t remember a single thing you were planning on saying.

Here’s the secret. Say something. Say anything. The longer you stay silent — trying to remember exactly what you had planned on saying — the more stressed you will get. And stress is like ice water on the brain. Say, “You know, I’ve completely forgotten what I was going to say.” Your audience will identify with you. They may laugh. Then you can laugh. Oxygen will return to your brain and begin thawing things out. Refer to your notes, if necessary. And begin again.

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See also “What to Do When Things Go Wrong.

Chris Witt, a speech coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to improve their presentation and communication skills. If you’re serious about learning more about how you could benefit from his coaching, contact him for a complimentary call.