How to Overcome Public Speaking Fears For Leader and Team Success
There are many reasons people are afraid to talk in front of a crowd. They fear being judged, not knowing or forgetting what to say, and appearing foolish.
Even though the fear of public speaking is common, being a good public speaker is a skill business professionals should develop. In addition to sharing a message and gaining trust, public speaking can bolster personal confidence.
Here’s why public speaking is so important for business leaders and their teams — and why it’s time to finally overcome this fear.
Why Strong Public Speaking Skills Matter
Speaking in public might be an ordeal, but it helps you grow in more ways than one. For example, public speaking skills can improve your personal and professional communication skills.
“Preparing a speech forces speakers to take a step back and think critically about effective ways to communicate,” Dom Barnard, founder of soft skills training program Virtual Speech, explains. This can be useful for breaking free of ineffective communication habits developed in childhood or early adulthood. When we’re unable to communicate clearly, our interpersonal relationships can be adversely affected. Learning to speak effectively to a crowd can make it easier to convey your thoughts to a loved one, according to professional public speaker Joseph Guarino, owner of the Institute of Public Speaking.
Public speaking skills can also improve team collaboration among employees, says Kristina Udice at workplace review and advice site Fairy God Boss. They work more effectively, solve problems more creatively, and are more efficient overall. This is because subtle communication skills, such as body language and eye contact, are honed through public speaking, boosting team relationships.
Barnard adds that speaking to groups increases a person’s self-confidence. Overcoming fears and insecurities in order to speak in public provides a sense of accomplishment, which in turn can inspire that person to speak in public more often.
Laura Spencer at education site Envato Tuts+ agrees. She explains that public speakers often garner positive praise and feedback from audience members after a well-delivered talk. This is a major payoff to something that may have been particularly stressful at the start.
In addition to boosting your interpersonal and teamwork skills, public speaking can advance your career. Even if you aren’t interested in pursuing public speaking long term, public speaking expert Sarah Lloyd-Hughes says it still makes professionals more competitive. According to Warren Buffet, “investing in public speaking skills can increase a person’s value by 50%.” Regardless of the industry, oral communication skills are sought after by recruiters.
And if public speaking skills seem more valuable than they used to, that’s because they are. The popularity and influence of TED talks is one reason, sustainability journalist Tim Smedley explains. He adds that it also raises expectations that public speakers inspire and motivate audiences. This may seem intimidating; yet, it can also be seen as a challenge to succeed at a highly-rewarding skill.
From an employer’s perspective, a history of public speaking can help a person stand out in an applicant pool. Someone who has a history of being a keynote speaker likely has strong interpersonal skills and well-developed presentation skills, programmer and team leader Erik Dietrich writes. Being experienced at giving public presentations might also mean that someone is relatively strong at mentoring, because it shows they have strong communication and motivation skills. Mentorship is a core leadership skill that can sometimes be hard to prove.
Such skills can also help with day-to-day management in the office. For example, organization and planning are key to giving an effective speech, says Jörgen Sundberg, CEO at branding agency Link Humans. Therefore, public speaking can make both leaders and employees better at planning, managing and hosting events. Public speaking appearances might also score you additional opportunities in leadership and networking.
You never know who might be in your audience (or who they might be looking for) when you give a presentation.
Thought Leadership and Trust
Both leaders and employees can benefit from becoming an industry thought-leader. Media consultant Gresham Harkless advises public speakers to stick to those topics they understand well. This makes it easier to plan a speech, as less research is necessary. It also provides more room for you to lend your own thoughts and opinions to industry news and ideals. This can make you appear more confident, boosting trust among your audience.
In the same vein, public speaking can help you gain credibility and nurture relationships in an authentic environment. “In addition to building brand awareness, this tactic creates an unmatched level of trust that can drive valuable business opportunities,” Trade Press Services president Gerri Knilans explains. Let’s say your audience is comprised of potential customers, for example. This is an opportunity to reinforce your brand mission and establish an emotional connection they will remember.
This is all certainly important for garnering the trust of potential partners, customers and the public. But as a leader, public speaking can also boost trust within your team. When leaders come across as inauthentic, inconsistent or incompetent in their communications, this creates an environment called a red zone, says management consultant Jim Tamm.
The problem with a red zone? “In such environments, people are less trusting, open, creative and productive and more self-protective.” Alternatively, public speaking skills help you clarify your intents and makes you seem more accessible and honest. It also can make you better at leading inspiring team meetings that motivate people to do their best and honor your intentions for the company.
There are few greater feelings in the world than overcoming your fears once and for all. Public speaking is a great way to leverage fear to your advantage.
For example, fear can be channeled into excitement to make a speech more compelling and moving, organizational psychologist Adam Grant says. “Physiologically, we have two different systems: the go system and the stop system.” While the go system makes a person feel more excited and energetic, the stop system slows us down and makes us more vigilant. The anxiety accompanied by public speaking revs up our go system, Grant explains. The fix is simple: Instead of forcing our bodies to calm down, simply redefine that energy as excitement instead of fear to transform the experience.
Another way to overcome fear is to view a speech as an opportunity to share important messages with a greater audience, journalist Elizabeth Matsangou writes.
Consider why you’re passionate about sharing this topic. How has this message or story changed your life? How can it improve the lives of others? Wielding your fear as motivation can be a powerful way to redirect your energy from anxiety to passion. Plus, being honest and forthcoming about why this message matters to you can ensure that it’s received well.
“Trying to put on a better version of oneself can often come across as insincere, or even calculated,” Matsangou adds.
Public speaking can also teach an important lesson about overcoming inner beliefs to pursue your goals. Specifically, it can help you challenge your personal negative self-statements about yourself to extend your own limits, says neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides. This is what he called cognitive reframing — a tool to replace negative statements with positive statements. “In essence, you are teaching yourself to see public speaking as a non-threatening event that you can learn to handle and to see yourself as a confident speaker-in-progress.”
In turn, public speaking can challenge you to think more pragmatically and intentionally about your life. These are are important skills that can transcend speaking and bolster success across business and professional realms.