I have never felt comfortable speaking in public. I still don’t. Whether it was back in school when a teacher called on me to answer a question or at work when asked to give a presentation. Public speaking created such anxiety in me that I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. This fear was so bad in my younger days that I would physically feel my throat tighten up before the dreaded moment arrived. And, when I eventually opened my mouth to speak, nothing but a squeaky sound would come out. It was embarrassing and horrifying. The fear even extended to singing in public.

fear of public speaking

One such horrifying experience was when I was 18 and participating in a singing recital in front of friends, family as well as people I didn’t know. I had been taking opera singing lessons for several months at that point and had practiced my solo for weeks. When my turn came to sing, my throat tightened, and I completely lost my voice. Nothing came out! Luckily, another more advanced student came to my rescue, and we sang together. I have never forgotten how humiliated I felt. What was wrong with me?

Imperfection is Perfection

Of course, over time, and with maturity, I learned to suppress most of my anxiety, and at times, feel somewhat comfortable speaking publicly. But that nagging fear in the back of my mind tends to still rear its ugly head. I fear I will once again stumble all over my words and my “audience” would either feel sorry for me or not understand what I meant to relay. Or they’d judge me (for not being perfect?). I envied those who had no trouble speaking freely in public, projecting their voices so loudly that even those in the back of a room could hear them clearly.

Was I fearful of being judged or fearful of not meeting my own expectations of perfection?  Are they one and the same?

Writing as a Refuge

My fear of public speaking, I discovered, is directly inverse to my confidence in writing. What a relief! Thankfully, I recognized this talent at the age of 10. I fell in love with writing likely for the very reason I was fearful of speaking in class or in front of people I didn’t know. Writing became my salvation. My refuge. My passion! Asked to write an essay in class? No problem! Give me anything to write about and I’ll do it with pleasure and quickly. But ask me to stand in front of the class to explain why General Washington crossed the Delaware River and I’ll become a “deer in the headlights,” frozen, throat tight, heart racing.

Still, I was intuitive enough to not allow my fear of public speaking to cripple my self-esteem. As self-assured as those individuals are who so adeptly and extemporaneously speak in public, I was confident in my ability with the written word. Now, when I think I’m rambling on and not making any sense when speaking to a group, I have learned to lighten the moment and soften the blow of my anxiety: I’ll simply joke that the reason I may sound incoherent is I’m editing in my head as I speak. Everyone laughs and all is good. I immediately feel my anxiety level receding.

Creative Imagery

I have heard it said by some life coaches that an effective tool in overcoming the fear of public speaking is to imagine the audience is naked. Yes, everyone naked. Alright. Next time, in case of emergency, I may use that tactic. And try not to laugh as I’m visualizing this.