I have a necklace I wear often when I teach. It’s a locket with a small framed quote from social activist Maggie Kuhn that reads, “Speak your mind—even if your voice shakes.” It reminds me that the subject I love teaching, practicing, researching, and writing about is something other people simply dread and find terrifying. It takes courage.

We talk a lot about fear of public speaking at Ethos3 because, well, lots of people are afraid of it. It is nearly always in the top 5 on any given list of fears. Citing research from Chapman University, The Washington Post has even published it at the top of the list in recent years with over 25% of people surveyed saying they are afraid of public speaking.

This is a prevalent and persistent fear. So we have to keep working to figure out why it’s so scary and how to move past it. Because communication matters. It really, really matters. We can’t avoid speaking about what matters to us. At least not if we want to express our opinions, overcome our differences, build our businesses, champion our ideas, and move our communities forward.

Some of the more common strategies for overcoming presentation anxiety are deep breathing, exposure therapy, or reframing your mindset. But if you’ve tried those and are still struggling, here are two unconventional strategies to help you summon the courage to speak.

Remember What’s At Stake

A friend of mine is in the medical field. She has so much talent and knowledge. But she confided in me that when she’s asked to share on panels or to present, she almost always turns those engagements down because she’s afraid of public speaking. She wanted my advice.

“When those opportunities come up,” I asked her, “do you have information that you think would benefit others?” With the amount of research and experience she had, she said she knew that she did. “Well,” I offered, “let the knowledge of how you can help, rather than your fear of speaking, move you to speak.” When you remember that what you have to say can be helpful to others or to your company or to your field, it can give you strength to take the stage.

Help Break the Pattern

As noted above, public speaking has been a top fear for a long time. When you summon the courage to speak, you are taking strides to break that long-standing pattern of fear. Here’s the thing. Fears are usually picked up one of three ways. They can be learned through classical conditioning, learning through actions and their resulting consequences. They can be learned through observation, watching others experience consequences. Or, they can be picked up through instructional fear acquisition which is basically contagious fear.

Instructional fear acquisition means we can learn to fear what those around us fear even if we’ve never seen any actual consequences attached to that fear. For example, as a child if you watched your older sister scream and run every time she saw a spider, you might start adopting her pattern as your own, even if there had never been a negative experience involving a spider for either of you. So it might help you fight your fear of public speaking if you can identify it as a contagious fear rather than a logical one based on negative firsthand experience.

I get it. I do. Speaking can be scary. But so can silence. If you can remember what is at stake when you don’t choose to speak out, it might give you the final push to present your ideas to the world. And when all of us start to summon the courage to speak more often, we help break the pattern and move “fear of public speaking” down that list of fears until it disappears completely.

Ethos3 wants to help prepare you to deliver your next big presentation with confidence and clarity. Ask us how.


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