Accountancy South Africa – Overcoming fear of speaking

Sweaty palms, tingling sensation, rapid heart rate are just some of the physical symptoms that people feel when asked to speak; it’s officially called glossophobia – fear of public speaking. This fear could also include total avoidance of events that focus on individual attention and result in limiting career opportunities.

What causes fear?

A healthy dose of fear is good. Fear is your brain’s alarm system that is triggered by sudden motions, sounds or anything that could threaten your safety or survival. Our primitive reaction to fear is either to take flight (avoidance) or to fight (we try to speak).

Our brains natural reaction to fear is one of 3 options.

  1. Dread: This is a long drawn-out feeling of uneasiness. People would rather do the activity that they are dreading than to wait their turn. This feeling also triggers the release of chemicals like adrenalin and other stress hormones that cause stress symptoms like sweaty palms.
  2. Anxiety: When you cannot decide if an experience is good or bad – your brain comes up with different scenarios (like falling on stage) and this creates anxiety – its your brains default setting to dealing with the unknown.
  3. Freezing: Standing still, saying nothing. It’s a survival technique used by animals to avoid being detected by predators. It’s also your brains extreme way to protect you from the fear of speaking.

Fear is a primitive form of protection that can be limiting in modern times. The brain operates on the assumption that every fear response is a matter of life or death causing you to over-react to the opportunity to speak and share your wisdom with others.

How to overcome fear of speaking?

There are two reasons why people fear speaking:

  1. You are not ready or
  2. You are selfish.

Lets rule out point one and assume you have extensively prepared and practiced your talk.

Point two relates to your mindset that may trigger a fear response. Remember, it’s a privilege to speak to a group of people. Someone asked you to speak because they believe you have a unique message to share that is valuable. Instead of focusing on your own selfish concerns like:

  1. Will they like my talk?;
  2. What if I fall?;
  3. What if I forget my speech?

Refocus your energy onto your audience and ask:

  1. What challenges is my audience going through?
  2. What personal experience can share that will help them?
  3. How do I structure my talk to meet the needs of my audience?

Your audience is looking forward to learning from you. By redirecting your thoughts in this manner, your energy shifts from being fearful and selfish to confident and selfless.

Inspirational Advice


  1. Your message is unique. Whilst other people might agree with your content your viewpoint is different. Gather strength from the original message you share.
  2. It is healthy to have a balance of confidence and anxiety before a talk; either extreme attract a fall from grace.
  3. Every audience is unique. Whilst you might have delivered the same talk before, someone in your audience needs to hear your message – deliver your talk for their benefit.
  4. Do not turn down stage time; ysou are turning down growth.
  5. With practice and time – you will get better at public speaking.

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