Why do people get nervous when they speak in public?

This is an age old question. Why do people get nervous when they have to speak in front of a group of strangers? There have been many many studies done on this subject. Numerous doctoral theses have been written on this topic. The basic reason we get nervous is fear. It is the fear of the unknown and there are two possible causes of such fear. The first one is the audience-a group of total strangers. We don’t know how they will react to our speech or presentation. The second fear is the topic itself.

To handle the first type of fear-fear of speaking to a group of total stranger’s-is relatively easy to do. Make a point of meeting some of these total strangers before you get up on the podium if it is possible for you to do so. If not, then try to make eye contact with a few of them during your presentation and convince yourself that these are your friends. Pick someone who has a familiar face, a kind face, a face you can relate to. Someone who reminds you of a friend you know. If you’re able to take either one of these actions, the fear of speaking to a group of strangers world dissipate sooner than you think.

The second type of fear relates to the topic on which you speak it. If you do not know the topic well enough, you are going to be very nervous and rightly so. It doesn’t matter if you have memorized or rehearsed your presentation 100 times before the day of reckoning. You will still feel nervous dep down because if you don’t know your subject, you’re going to be asking yourself this question “Geez… what if somebody asks me something on this topic and I don’t have the answer?” Many speakers have fallen flat on their faces after they’ve given a well-rehearsed presentation or speech as soon as someone in the audience asked them a question that they cannot answer or understand.

My favorite example is this: you can memorize Einstein’s theory of relativity and give a flawless presentation to a group of theoretical physicists at the convention. But unless you know the topic really well, you are going to be nervous and mortified because you know that  you will not be able to answer the first question from the audience.  The fear will never go away. You can have the best speaking coaches in the world coaching you. That fear will NEVER go away.

So the best way to conquer this fear is to know your subject. Instead of spending your time memorizing your speech or presentation, spend the time to really understand the topic and to try to anticipate any questions that may come up from the audience during and after your presentation. Once you feel that you have mastered the topic of your presentation, the fear of this unknown will also dissipate.

One final thought. Never never tell your audience at the beginning of the presentation that you are nervous and you are new at this. All that does is reinforce your lack of confidence and it also makes the audience nervous. They’re going to be sitting back thinking of two things. One – you mean I have to sit through this horrible presentation because the speaker doesn’t know what he’s doing? Or two – Lee’s sit back and see how bad this presentation is going to be and let’s look for mistakes. The truth of the matter is that you may feel nervous but the audience doesn’t really know that you are nervous. We are often a much harsher critic of our own ability than others.

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5 responses to “Why do people get nervous when they speak in public?

  1. i understands the meaning of nervous through this your sites. it is a good time for me to always stay on your site when ever i find problem to understand some aspect.

    Thank you for good explaination.

  2. Pingback: Project Proposals 30 April 2010 « Reinhardt’s Ramblings

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  4. Megan Armstrong

    I am extremely nervous when it comes to presentations , assembly’s or the usual crowd , I hate it and it only occurred to me when I entered high school !

  5. Pingback: Nervous people | Seifen

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