There you are, standing in front of a crowd. Your mouth’s dry, your armpits are dripping in sweat, and your heart… well, it might just burst out of your body at any second.
You open your mouth, but no words come out. And, oh sh*t, you can’t move.
The fear of public speaking sure does have bad timing. Because, man!, how embarrassing is it to be stuck on stage, motionless, speechless, and with all eyes on you?
To say “Don’t worry, it happens to everyone” is like offering a Band-Aid to someone who just got hit by a bus. It’s oversimplifying a fear that can be downright paralyzing. But it’s not without merit—this fear affects millions of people, from students to CEOs.
That’s why it’s important to know how to overcome this fear so you can become a confident and captivating speaker. One person who knows this best is Lisa Nichols, a renowned motivational speaker and trainer of Mindvalley’s Speak and Inspire Quest.
She’s learned to use the power of her story to overcome this particular fear (she is a motivational speaker for a reason). And with her tips and tricks, you, too, can learn how to stand in front of a crowd.
“Speaking is the doorway to get your greatest needs met,” says Lisa. And as you learn how to manage your fear, you’ll also learn how to be a voice to be reckoned with.
What Is the Fear of Public Speaking?
The fear of public speaking is a beast—and not in a pump-iron-like-Dwayne-Johson kind of way. But more like that, it gives you an intense feeling of fear as if you’re facing a real-life beast.
It causes such distress that there’s a medical term for it. And what is the fear of public speaking called? Glossophobia. It comes from the Greek words “glossa,” which means tongue or language, and “phobia,” which means fear. (Non-medically speaking, it’s also known as stage fright or audience anxiety.)Fear comes from projecting a story that you made up about speaking that hasn’t happened yet that actually has a physical, emotional impact on you in the now. — @lisa_2motivate Click To Tweet
And it seems that the fear of speaking in public affects a lot of people—74%, in fact, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. But why is it so common?
Well, for starters, we’re wired, as humans, to want social approval and acceptance; it’s part of our hierarchy of needs. So when we’re frozen up there in the spotlight, the social phobia of not being liked takes over.
That’s exactly what researchers studying social anxiety found. In their book, Coping With Social Anxiety, Eric Hollander and Nicholas Bakalar suggest that glossophobia may be due to a combination of wanting to be liked and the fear of being judged.
Is the fear of public speaking a mental disorder?
For something to be considered a mental disorder, it needs to meet certain criteria based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Thankfully, the fear of public speaking isn’t considered one.
So if it’s not a mental disorder, is the fear of public speaking a social anxiety, then? According to researchers Eric and Nicholas, it’s a symptom of it.
It causes significant stress and anxiety for those who go through it. And, to no surprise, it has an effect on the brain.
Eric and Nicholas explain in their book that two things happen “in the noggin” when socially anxious people are asked to speak in public:
- Increased activity in the amygdala, which is involved in the fear response, and
- Decreased activity in the insular cortex and right temporal pole, which are connected to processing emotions and social information.
This may be why people with social anxiety disorder have such a difficult time starting a speech in front of a group of people.
What Does It Feel Like?
Whether it’s just butterflies in the stomach, sleepless nights the night before, drinking way too much and making a fool of yourself, or being completely paralyzed, we’ve all experienced it in one form or another.
Think of a time when you had to stand up in front of a group and talk. How did you feel? How did you react? Did you experience any of the symptoms mentioned? Or were you cool as a cucumber?
Since we’re all unique in our own ways, each of us has a different experience. So what are the symptoms of fear of public speaking? Here’s a list:
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea or stomach upset
- Blushing or feeling flushed
- Tension in muscles
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems or mental blocks
- Panic attacks or feelings of impending doom
Whichever part of the spectrum you experience when you’re up on stage, it helps to understand what fear can teach you. And in doing so, it’s one step away from it and one step closer to being a confident, effective speaker.
How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking: 3 Practical Tips From Lisa Nichols
Lisa Nichols, Tony Robbins, Nick Vujicic, Brené Brown, Oprah Winfrey… These are only a handful of people who have that effective communication magic and are able to rock the stage like it’s second nature.
Granted, you may not make public speaking your thing. But surely there will come a time when you’ll have to speak in front of some people.
And when that day comes, you’ll be (hopefully!) glad that you’ve learned how to overcome the fear of public speaking.
Here are three actionable tips from Lisa Nichols that you can take to go from fear to fearlessness:
1. Turn fear into fuel
Fear is a survival mechanism, letting us know when and where there’s something around the corner to harm us. For instance, when we see a beast (animal or human, you choose), our brain may compute it as a threat and trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response.
But where there’s no real physical danger, like public speaking, this response can be more of a hindrance than a help.
A big part of overcoming your fear of public speaking is about changing your mindset. If you change your mindset, everything else will follow. So how do you do it?
Lisa suggests looking at it like any other emotion, like joy, gratitude, or love. It’ll help you “press reset,” so to speak.
Lisa Nichols’ tip: “Fear is your friend.” And when you see it in this new light, you’ll find that it’s the thing that “pushes you forward instead of paralyzing you.”
You can watch more of Lisa explaining how to turn fear into fuel at Mindvalley’s A-Fest 2015 in Costa Rica:
2. Get clear on your contribution to your audience
One impactful thing you can do to get out of that fear zone, according to Lisa, is to identify three things you want to contribute to your audience. Here are some questions she recommends you answer:
- What are the three things that people are going to gain because you spoke?
- How are the lives of the listeners going to be different because they heard your voice?
These three things could be anything. It could be compassion, viable education, and joy. Or it could be inspiration, information, and hope.
Use your dantian energy and really get clear on what you’d like your audience to take away. The more committed, aware, and clear those outcomes are for you, that’s when the fear begins to dissipate.
Lisa Nichols’ tip: “Oftentimes, when you’re not aware of the positive result you’re going to produce from speaking, you get tied into the negative impression you have of the things that might occur.”
Watch more of Lisa’s insights on Mindalley’s YouTube:
3. Speak from your soul
People don’t always remember what you say, but, by golly, they will remember how you make them feel. And that is the power of the voice.
“When you’re willing to use your voice, first, you have to recognize that you have one,” says Lisa. And that takes practice.
It takes practice to know when to get loud and when to get soft. It takes practice to take that pregnant pause at the right moments. And it takes practice to move people like Lisa does.
Lisa Nichols’ tip: “You have to be willing to use every experience that’s ever happened in your life, not as a fortress holding you from using your voice, but as the fuel on why you will use your voice.”
You can watch the impact of Lisa’s stage presence at the Mindvalley Reunion 2018 in San Diego, California:
Own the Mic
Public speaking can spark fear in the hearts of even the greatest. But then again, so are most things when you’re starting out.
Maybe these tips are enough to get you going. But maybe it has inspired you to learn more.
That’s where Lisa Nichols’ Speak and Inspire Quest can help. She can guide you to…
- Find your voice,
- Touch the hearts of your audience,
- Engage with them, and
- Show your story, not just tell it.
When you sign up for a free Mindvalley account, you get access to the first few lessons of her Quest. And there’s more: You’ll also be part of a global community of like-minded individuals, like this guy right here:
Before enrollment, I had no expectations as Lisa was not your conventional speaking coach type showcased across the web. One week in, I realized she was a maestro and well above many speaking programs I had seen or tried. Once I completed this program, my life changed. I CHANGED. I could now shine on stage super bright and deliver my content to share my message and gifts with the world.— Faraaz Ali, life and executive coach
Sure, facing your fears can be a fear in and of itself. But, as Lisa says, “it’s what you do with it that will make the difference in your world.”