The fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death!
Surveys show that more people are afraid of public speaking than of death!
etc., etc., etc..
Statements like these, which unfortunately are all too common, do a great disservice to the general public. I would prefer to see these statements barred from future dialogue. Any comparisons between the fear of public speaking and the fear of death are fundamentally pointless.
There is way too much hype associated with glossophobia (fear of public speaking) being compared to the fear of death. At best these comparisons are a stretch; more accurately they are an urban myth.
A sensible look at glossophobia will reveal that the fear of public speaking is always associated with body sensations like these: flushed face, dry throat, swollen tongue, breathlessness, pounding chest (my most common experience), rigid body, shaking hands, shaking knees, stomach in knots and clammy hands.
All these body sensations are triggered by the fight or flight response, which in turn is triggered by very ancient parts of the brain designed to detect threat. The two primary triggers for fight flight response are:
- The realization that a large number of people are looking at the speaker, and directing attention towards the speaker
- The fear associated with being ostracized by the group, a fear of being judged, a fear of looking like an idiot.
That’s it. This is all we are up against.
There are plenty of ways to manage this situation. They involve 3 easy steps:
- Change of perspective
- Practice, practice & practice
- Relaxation techniques.
In my opinion, it is the unpleasant memories of anxiety associated with these fears that keep professionals from stepping up and starting to acquire expertise in public speaking—an essential skill.
I believe the pointless hype surrounding this very natural fear is the elephant in the room that must be confronted.
To learn more:
- Review this presentation video—minute 17 – 30:30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Paf22aYNYw
- Check out this TedEd Video Lesson
- Read these articles
- Read chapter 7 of my book Necessary Bridges: Public Speaking and Storytelling for Project Managers and Engineers for a far more detailed discussion and for multiple coping strategies. A free pdf copy of this chapter can be downloaded here Necessary Bridges RNK Chapter 7
My professional background is engineering and project management. I believe my professions are seriously shorting themselves by not proactively promoting public speaking and storytelling skills at the college level and in early career.
I further believe that many project managers and engineers do not take up public speaking and storytelling, at least partially, because of the fears associated with public speaking. This is most unfortunate. Corrective action is required!