How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

If you were to ask people what biggest fear is the list would usually include things like flying, spiders, heights, being confined in tight spaces and even clowns. Yet one fear affects a majority of people more than anything else — public speaking. This is according to a number of different surveys that ask people what they’re most afraid of.

For some reason people get more butterflies and nerves before speaking in front of others than almost anything else. This week I read about new research that shows how to re-brand those nerves by framing them differently:

In the experiments, some participants were told to either try to calm down or try to get excited before the task; others were given no such instructions. People who viewed their anxious arousal as excitement not only reported feeling more excited, they also performed better on all tasks than the other participants: their singing was about 30 percent more accurate, their scores on several dimensions of public speaking were approximately 20 percent higher, and their performance on a timed math test was about 15 percent better, according to the paper, which ran in the Journal of Experimental Psychology last June.

The power of positive thinking can be beneficial beyond public speaking, as well. In his book, Inside the Investor’s Brain, Richard Peterson describes the number of advantages that can come about from having an optimistic view on life:

Positive emotions, such as happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and joy, are characterized by confidence, optimism, and self-efficacy. Happy people interpret their own negative moods and damaging life events with more optimism and respond to them in more positive, affirming ways than more pessimistic people. There is a positive feedback effect of good mood on well-being. Chronically positive people have better immunity and physical health than others.

Researchers have found numerous effects of positive mood on judgment. Subjects in a positive emotional state tend to reduce the complexity of decisions by adopting a simpler process of information retrieval.

It’s also been said that negative people are more apt to overreact to losses which is something can can have a huge impact on your financial decisions.

Positive thinking doesn’t absolve you from considering reality and the fact that life isn’t always perfect or even fair. Glass-is-half-full people have to be careful that it doesn’t lead them wear blinders to the potential risks or facts that go against an optimistic line of thinking. The good times wouldn’t feel quite so good if it weren’t for the bad times so you have to be realistic about these things. I’ve found that avoiding negative and cynical people is a great way to get rid of unecessary stress and drama in your life.

Inside the Investor’s Brain
Re-brand stage fright to overcome it (Scientific American)

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  1. Paul LaVanway commented on May 11

    Absolutely—-there is a great deal of truth in this. That said, and in a similar vein, the very best book I’ve ever read (and tried to follow) on public speaking was/is Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker.” As Berkun says—-“approach is essential.”

    • Ben commented on May 11

      Nice. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll put it on my reading list.