Public speaking fear is a type of social anxiety disorder, which is something that causes extreme fear in various social settings. There are many things being said about fear of speaking in front of an audience, and picking up the wrong ones can make it even more terrifying for those who suffer from it.
If the thought of you speaking before people, whether few or numerous ones, leaves you in panic mode, it’s important to note that you’re not alone — fear of public speaking is actually more common than you think!
Feeling scrutinized, judged and ostracized whenever all eyes are on you? Then read on.
In this post, I let you in on a few facts about fear of public speaking. It may not get rid of that thing that can leave your heart racing and your legs seeming like jelly alright, but at least it can give you the assurance that many are exactly just like you and that there’s hope — public speaking fear is something you can deal with.
63.9% College Students Have Public Speaking Anxiety
It is said that anywhere from 20% to 85% of the general population experience anxiety whenever they need to speak in front of others.
And according to a report that appeared on the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as many as 63.9% of college students suffer from fear of public speaking.
Many degree-seeking students, however, are willing to do something about the matter.
As a matter of fact, based on the same survey, up to 89.3% of them would like for their undergraduate programs to include classes that can help them improve their public speaking skills.
In college students, the problem with having speaking anxiety can lead to missed opportunities. For instance, they may steer clear of certain courses or majors they like simply because they involve oral presentations. Or they may also refuse to attend social events or join clubs in order to avoid speaking in front of others.
Not talking to classmates may cause one to feel like an outcast, which can leave the student to contemplate dropping out — college students with close friends are less likely to quit school.
Besides public speaking, there are many other things that can make a lot of college students feel anxious.
Living away from home, managing coursework, striving to succeed alone, social pressures, financial struggles — these are just some of the things that can make students anxiety-prone.
Fear of Speaking Can Affect College Admission
Many colleges and universities offer a certain percentage of applicants to undergo an interview, which is something that’s conducted either by an alumni member or a staff member of the admissions department.
In any case, one thing remains true: a college interview is a particular style of public speaking.
Needless to say, it doesn’t matter if the audience consists of one or two individuals or hundreds or thousands of people. If you are terrified to speak in public, you will feel an assortment of uncomfortable emotional and physical symptoms each time you have to open your mouth to address people — any number of people.
And since a college interview is a form of demonstrated interest that many institutions with a holistic admissions policy take into account, declining it or failing to pull it off could keep you from getting an acceptance letter.
Survived an interview despite having fear of public speaking and got into the college, too? Congrats!
Getting accepted is one thing, and graduating is another. As someone who is working on an undergraduate degree and wants to graduate on time, consider dealing with your fear of public speaking.
That’s because, based on statistics, it’s something that can impair college graduation rate by up to 10%.
In high school, an excellent way to manage public speaking anxiety is by joining clubs and organizations that give you plenty of opportunities to face people — practice makes perfect.
And it’s like hitting birds with two stones if you partake in extracurriculars your top-choice colleges love!
Public Speaking Fear Can Limit Career
The dilemma of students who fear speaking in public doesn’t end after college.
That’s because public speaking remains an integral component of many different undertakings outside of higher education. From applying for a job, maintaining a career to getting a promotion, everything requires one to speak before other individuals.
A survey says that some of the top things employers want in new hires have something to do with public speaking.
Oral communication is the number one skill they must have. Presentation skill is at number 5 on the list. Coincidentally, these skills are also what companies look for in people in order for them to be placed in mid-level positions.
Some working adults are so fearful of speaking in public that, according to another survey, more than 10% of them would willingly decline an opportunity to present even if they lost respect and credibility at work.
On the other hand, about 70% of those who would be willing to commit agree that public speaking is vital to career success.
Luckily, there are certain careers that will not require you to speak a lot or at all in front of an audience.
Some jobs where being a confident public speaker isn’t a must-have quality include:
- Civil engineer
- Computer programmer
- Data entry clerk
- Graphic designer
- Laboratory technician
- Research scientist
- Software Developer
- Web developer
But keep in mind that over 50% of all jobs require teamwork, and being a part of a team will require you to communicate with others. Collaboration is important in the workplace, even in the lowest levels of an organization.
Zoom Anxiety Is a Thing
If you think that nothing can be more terrifying than face-to-face speaking, think again.
When virtual classes and office meetings boomed in popularity, what’s referred to as Zoom anxiety came into being. Also sometimes called Zoom performance anxiety, it’s something that causes excessive worrying and oftentimes unnecessary nervousness associated with the use of the video conferencing platform Zoom or something similar to it.
No matter if video conferencing with one, a handful or several people, Zoom anxiety can make speaking even more horrifying for many because of the numerous questions that may pop into their minds:
- Are they really listening to me?
- Are they secretly playing games, watching videos or checking emails?
- Can they hear the neighbor’s dogs barking?
- Is my backdrop okay?
- Do I look at their faces on the screen or into my laptop’s camera?
- Is their internet signal crappy and my image is stuck at a very unflattering expression?
- Can they hear me or am I on mute?
- Are they recording the entire conversation?
Things such as not being able to move too much and the thought of being watched by everyone else present in real-time, of course, are some of the root causes of Zoom anxiety.
And then there’s also what’s known as mirror anxiety, which is anxiety that’s caused by seeing your own face on the screen.
Zoom anxiety is actually more common these days than most people think.
As a matter of fact, according to a study, up to 80% of college students confess to feeling more anxious during online classes than when participating in in-person classes.
What You’re Saying Is Not Important
It’s not uncommon for people to feel anxious when asked to speak before an audience due to insufficient confidence in what they are about to say. While whatever will come out of your mouth matters, how it comes out of your mouth matters more — and it can spell the difference between obtaining praise and getting flak.
Based on research, what you are saying in front of others, believe it or not, is the one with the least importance among all the different elements of public speaking.
Let’s take a look at the things that make the art of speaking a hit:
- Non-verbal communication – 55%
- Voice – 38%
- Content – 7%
So, in other words, while you should definitely prepare your speech, it’s also a must to also gear up how you speak and communicate to the audience.
The importance of having the right body language cannot be stressed enough. A non-verbal type of communication, it plays a major role in public speaking. That’s because it helps you build a connection with people in front of you and encourages them to continue paying attention to whatever you are delivering.
Some of the hardest habits to break, experts agree, are bad body language habits.
That being said, consider getting rid of them once and for all for a successful upcoming public engagement as well as the subsequent ones regardless of the venue, event and size of the audience.
Less is More When It Comes to Public Speaking
Just because public speaking is called such doesn’t mean the presenter has to speak endlessly from the start of the presentation to the end.
While it’s something that can be done, talking non-stop can hinder effective audience engagement, which is considered the main focus of any public speaking undertaking.
Engaging an audience successfully pays off in the form of improved learning and increased satisfaction.
According to statistics, audience participation tends to drop substantially after about 30 minutes.
But the good news is that you can keep this from happening by speaking less to the individuals in front of you and listening to them more. As a matter of fact, audience engagement levels are at their highest (92%) if the audience does most of the talking.
On the other hand, audience engagement levels are at their lowest (78%) if most of the talking is done by you.
This applies elsewhere and not just while standing on a podium — the most productive sales meeting, for instance, occurs if the one who’s doing the sales speaks 35% of the time and listens 78% of the time.
Here are some of the things that can help increase audience engagement:
- Ask rhetorical questions – attendees love it if they can use their brain, too, and not just their ears.
- Ask actual questions – everyone can feel like they are a part of the event if they can also use their mouths.
- Live interaction – listeners can feel special and heard if asked for their thoughts or to partake in demonstrations.
- Take a poll – it’s common for some of the best public speakers to use the phrase “raise your hands if…”
- Movement – asking the audience to dance or stretch for a while can keep them from losing focus.
- Change positions – walking around the room or sitting on the edge of the stage makes for an intimate moment.
Camera Is Better Than Mirror for Practicing
Speaking of the importance of body language in public speaking, having a confident stance, emphatic gestures, leadership gaze and vocal vigor can make your time in front of people engaging rather than uninteresting.
And that is why practicing in front of a mirror is common advice to those who are seeking help with their oral presentation.
But did you know that it can be more detrimental than beneficial?
What’s wrong with practicing before a mirror is that it limits you to a close-up representation of yourself, which is something that the audience will rarely ever see.
Standing close to a mirror will cause you to focus on the fine details. This can easily make you overthink things, which can leave you stressed and exhausted and cause you to fail to consider the most important steps in the preparatory phase. Dealing with stuff that the crowd before you won’t notice is a complete waste of time and totally pointless.
Instead of standing in front of a mirror, grab a camcorder or reach for your smartphone.
Record yourself twice — a wide shot that captures your entire body and a medium shot that excludes the waist down. Watch both videos and identify a few things that you want to change. And after you have improved them through constant practice, try to add a few elements that can help boost your performance.
Count on a mirror only before you hit the stage to check your hair, teeth, makeup and wardrobe.
75% Would Rather Die Than Speak Publicly
According to surveys, 75% of Americans fear public speaking more than death — that’s 3 in 4 people finding lying in a casket for all of eternity less terrifying than being in front of an audience.
Older surveys revealed that snakes are the leading fear of respondents.
Meanwhile, public speaking is the second fear. And glossophobia is the fancy phobia name for fear or public speaking or public speaking anxiety. According to a more recent investigation by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), glossophobia is something that affects about three-fourths of the entire population.
Scientists believe that glossophobia is rooted in our ancestors, in particular back when everyone had to live in tribes in order to protect themselves from large animals and harsh weather conditions — and being kicked out of the tribe could almost always mean death. Well, the fear of being rejected is at the core of fear of public speaking.
Just about everything that makes a person terrified to speak before others, from a lack of preparation to the brain suddenly freezing in the middle of the presentation, has something to do with ostracism.
45 and Older More Confident Than 25-year Olds
Refrain from assuming that just because you fear speaking in public now means that you will fear it for the rest of your life.
Based on a report by The Healthy, which is Reader’s Digest brand, self-confidence tends to increase throughout a person’s lifetime — the older you get, the more confident you become!
And other surveys agree with the said report, which, by the way, was based on the findings of researchers from the University of Bern, which is one of the top public institutions located in Switzerland.
Around 69% of individuals aged 45 and over, for instance, agree to feeling either quite confident or very confident compared to only about 25% of people from 16 to 24 years of age.
Meanwhile, another research says that the highest point for self-confidence happens at around age 60, staying there until it slightly declines at 70 to 80 years old.
But it doesn’t mean that you will have to wait until you’re 60 just to be able to shine at public speaking.
Steps that young adults may take in order to increase their self-confidence come aplenty. Many of them can be surprisingly simple and easy, too. Some examples experts recommend include:
- Tutoring a classmate
- Cleaning up the neighborhood
- Walking dogs
- Eating healthier
- Exercising regularly
- Participating in sports
- Playing music
- Painting or drawing
- Writing poems
- Learning how to ride a bicycle
Just Before You Speak in Public
It’s normal for people to feel anxious from time to time, such as when speaking in front of a crowd. For some, however, the matter can be unrelenting and intense — so much so that it can keep them from having happy and productive lives.
Above, we talked about some public speaking fear-related stuff.
In some instances, constant practice and enough preparation each and every time can help in the management of the problem. But there are times, too, when seeing a professional might be a smart move to take. Undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, is proven effective in reducing fear of public speaking.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.