Getting Over a Fear of Public Speaking

Don't let nerves stop you from making yourself heard.

Woman standing in a room of white microphones.
Getty ImagesOli Kellett

Q: I’ve been invited to teach a course, but I’m not a public speaker. How can I overcome my fear?

Fear of speaking in front of a group is at the top of many people’s list of worst fears. (Others are death, financial problems, and loneliness.) As a result, many avoid situations that require them to speak publicly, and this can negatively impact their career, whether it’s by reducing opportunities for promotion or lowering others’ perception of their competence. Here are a couple suggestions that can help you overcome what I call FOPO (Fear of a Podium):

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• Ignore the advice to calm down. First, it is impossible; a racing heart, shallow breathing, and sweaty palms are evidence that there is nothing calm about the situation you are in. Second, it doesn’t make any sense; a chilled-out speaker is going to put everyone to sleep.

• Reframe it: Social scientist and Harvard Business School assistant professor Alison Wood Brooks recommends reinterpreting anxiety in a more positive light. In a study, participants who said “I am excited” performed better than those who tried to calm themselves down. Embrace your pre-speech jitters as excitement. Remember, fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.

A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Marie Claire.

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