• Barbara Mayfield, MS, RD, LD, FAND

Does fear keep you off the stage? Take the spooky out of public speaking!

Updated: 4 days ago


A halloween costume of a ghost

Does the idea of speaking in public cause you to feel anxious? Do you avoid situations that require speaking in front of others? Does this fear hold you back from career advancement or accomplishing your goals?


Would you like to take the spooky out of public speaking?


Let’s take a closer look at why speaking in public is spooky and how to replace that fear with joyful anticipation.


How common is the fear of public speaking?

The American Psychiatric Association classifies public speaking anxiety, or PSA, in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a social anxiety disorder. It is the most common social anxiety disorder, affecting 15-30% of the general population.


The fear of public speaking is common, but not as common as is often quoted. Look up the prevalence and you will often find it reported as affecting 75% or more of the population. See Build Your Presentation Confidence for more on this erroneous statistic.


Regardless of the exact number, it is keeping too many people from having the impact they desire. Let’s explore why.


Why is public speaking spooky?

Many reasons for public speaking anxiety have been hypothesized. As you read the list below, consider which ones you have experienced. Each one may contribute to a speaker’s anxiety in varying degrees depending on the situation. Which ones resonate with you?

  • Perception of a threatening situation stimulates a fear response. Threats may include high stakes related to performance, the status of audience members, new or controversial subject matter, or simply unfamiliarity with the audience or venue.

  • Negative self-perceptions create defeating self-talk, such as: “I’m not good at speaking in public.” “I’m boring.” “I don’t know my subject matter well enough.” “Others are better, or smarter, or more attractive…”

  • Memories of previous speaking failures including negative evaluations and comments.

  • Fear of appearing nervous.

  • Fear of fear.

Fear of public speaking may be justified if you are unprepared and unskilled. However, if you are prepared, your fears are unfounded. Honing our public speaking skills and overcoming public speaking anxiety can lead to greater professional and personal success.


Why is being able to speak in public without fear something to strive for?

Speaking well in public has numerous positive outcomes. It is how we inform others, teach, motivate, persuade, and entertain. Those who do it well have a greater impact from sharing their expertise, ideas, products, and talents.


Accomplished public speakers are perceived as more successful and attain higher levels of leadership and financial gain. They can effectively lead others, champion causes, and have greater influence.


When we overcome our fear of public speaking, we can confidently look forward to sharing our ideas on any stage and experience the personal satisfaction of connecting effectively with an audience.


How can I overcome the fear of public speaking?

Overcoming the fear of public speaking requires having a positive outlook, building our speaking competence, and getting on stage.


Chapter 21 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, as summarized in You CAN Overcome Stage Fright, covers proven strategies for overcoming the fear of public speaking. I condensed them into these 5 tips:

  • Don’t undress your audience!

  • Believe they want you to succeed!

  • Be prepared!

  • Open with a smile!

  • Engage your audience!

Download the free tip sheet and put each tip into practice. Need more help? Sign up for expert coaching. Take the spooky out of public speaking!


“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt


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