Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

I was a very shy child, and well into my adult life I held a fear of public speaking that affected giving presentations and even networking. My heart would sink, or rather pummel, when someone announced that we would be introducing ourselves as an icebreaker. For me it came out as a wobbly voice, and completely losing my train of thought. Sometimes I would say just a few words instead of all of the things I had planned to say, and then I would curse myself for the lost opportunity.

Glossophobia - fear of public speaking

The bane of public speaking: Glossophobia

I know I was not alone in my anxiety. It even has a name, Glossophobia, and around 75% of us feel it, to one degree or another. It may be apocryphal, but you have probably heard that most people would sooner die than speak in public. That is pretty serious.

It all came to a head for me in 2003 when I was 33 years old. A good friend was married and asked me to make a speech at his wedding, which was a fairly large occasion in a British stately home. That is a fairly overwhelming environment.

I had plenty of time so I booked myself onto a Dale Carnegie course which included speaking. That was very good, but even at the end after several weeks I still was not comfortable. I also joined Toastmasters, which is based around an excellent course. The speech came and it went fairly well, although I was a bag of nerves. Afterwards I felt relieved but also realised that I had quite enjoyed the experience, once I had started.

Breakthrough, eventually

My real breakthrough came about 8 years ago. I now regularly speak to rooms of up to 100 and occasionally more. I experience some nerves, but I have learned to control them and use them to improve my performance. Not so long ago this would have seemed completely unlikely. Then it was something that I would dearly love to have had in my armoury, but I felt that it was completely unobtainable. So how did I do it?

I started acting in corporate murder mystery events. The first few were intimidating, but as I gained experience and confidence that started to change and I can well remember the day that I realised that I was looking forward to the next show, rather than dreading it. Now, some 200 or so shows later, it is no longer an issue. It has solved the problem elsewhere too, and I now jump at the chance to stand up and talk.

Gary Vaynerchuk speaking in a conference as a keynote speaker
photo credit: Silicone Prairie News / Flickr


There are thousands of books and courses which discuss this issue, but it is actually very simple and not something that most people can solve by reading a book. The best solution is, actually, exposure to the problem. You can find safe places where you can do this without consequences on, for example, your business. In time it gets better.

But why would anyone do this? Why go through the pain? Well, some will not want to. However, if something inside you says; “I wish I could do that” and you do manage to slay the dragon that stops you it is extremely rewarding.

Abraham Maslow, famous for his hierarchy of needs pyramid, said; “One can choose to go back towards safety or forward towards growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”