Public Speaking: From Fear to Confidence

© 2014 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.

© 2014 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.

It is no secret that one of the top fears people have is the fear of public speaking — glossophobia. There are several strategies people employ in the attempt to overcome this fear. However, most of those strategies are focused towards a successful one-time presentation rather that dealing with the root of the problem.

The real issue driving the fear of public speaking for most people is a lack of confidence. Overcoming glossophobia and developing your confidence is not simply a matter of knowledge comprehension, its about experience.

Confidence is only built through experience.

We need to understand the root cause of our lack of confidence (i.e. lack of experience in speaking). No human is a natural speaker. There has not yet been born a baby that came out of the womb and stood up and gave a rousing speech to the delivery doctor. In fact, you don’t event get to choose the language you are going to speak. You are taught speech through modeling. Consequently, most of us simply speak the way the people around us spoke when we were growing up. Let’s explore this idea further.

How talented of an artist are you? Most adults draw at a twelve-year-old level, and most adults response to that statement is, “If even that!”

How much do you like to read? If you don’t read on a daily basis, then you probably read at a twelve-year-old level. Don’t get me wrong, your knowledge base and vocabulary have certainly expanded beyond that level. However, unless you read on a regular basis, your speed and comprehension will parallel that of a twelve-year-old. In fact, most best-sellers are written at an eighth-grade level for that very reason.

Most adults also speak at a twelve-year-old level. Again, your subject knowledge and vocabulary may be well beyond that level, but most adults will present the information with the style and confidence of a twelve-year-old.

Why? What is so defining about the period of our life around the age of twelve?

The years around the age of twelve (plus or minus) are the “awkward years”. We are transitioning from childhood to adulthood and discovering ourselves. Everything about us undergoes a change of some kind during this period of our life. The vast quantity of changes creates uncertainty and undermines our confidence.

It is during this period of lack of confidence that decisions are made establishing the habits that will dictate our developmental experiences. For many, those habits will dictate the rest of their life. However, as we will see in this article, we can choose to change our habits.

It is during this time when we are doodling on a sheet of paper in class and a friend asks us what we are drawing. When we tell them what it is, they proceed to laugh at the drawing. So, we decide that we are not an artist and give up drawing. Our decision limits the number of drawing experiences we will have in the future and stunts our development in this area.

In the same way, one day we are sitting in class and the teacher asks us to read a specific paragraph. It just so happens that the paragraph we are assigned to read out loud has a word in it we have no idea how to pronounce. As we stumble over the word, the rest of the class laughs. So, we decide we are not a reader. Again, the decision limits our experiences and stunts our growth.

Speaking is no different. We’ve all been in the situation when the words wouldn’t come out right, or we were told not to speak. I can’t tell you how many times growing up I was told to keep quiet because “this is adult conversation”. So, we keep quiet. We limit the number of experiences we have in speaking publicly and stunt our growth.

The key point we need to understand is the fact that the fear of public speaking for most adults is really a confidence issue that exists because of a lack of experience.

It is experience that develops confidence. Confidence alleviates fear. The question then becomes, how do we gain experience?

You can always take the route of trial and error and jump in head first at every opportunity. However, the outcome of this approach is very uncertain. It could just as easily destroy your confidence as build it.

It is far better to take a strategic approach to gaining the experiences you need to develop confidence to overcome the fear of public speaking.

There are seven steps you can take to develop a strategic approach to building your confidence in public speaking:

1) Develop the Goal

The most important question is why do you want to develop your confidence and improve your ability to speak? It is vitality that you define the goal with clarity. In a world where more and more of our communication is done via e-communications, public speaking (and face-to-face communication) is becoming a lost art. This means one of your greatest opportunities for career advancement can be found in developing your communication skills — especially public speaking. Developing the goal should consider both why and what. Why you want to develop in this area, and what you want to look like when fully developed.

2) Develop the Model

Speaking is primarily a modeled art. We speak like the people around us. If you grew up in the South … you generally sound like it. Therefore, it is important in developing confidence to begin listening to, associating with, and modeling ourselves after people who speak the way we want to speak. It is amazing how many people overlook this step. It is vital that you identify people who model what you want for your life.

3) Develop the Method

There are a number of different styles of speech presentation. The wrong approach here is to consider what is the most popular style. The correct approach is what fits with your abilities and presentation tendencies. You might have to experiment with a variety of styles to see what works and what doesn’t. This is where practice comes into play. However, practicing a speech does not develop our confidence. It is not an “experience”. Nothing replaces the actual experience of giving the speech.

4) Develop the Growth Plan

The Growth Plan takes a look at the foundational blocks necessary to successfully execute an experience. It might be a class that gives you mastery of the subject matter you will be presenting or to gain the credentials necessary for you to be asked to present. I re-evaluate my growth plan on a regular basis to continue to develop the skills that will enable me to more effectively present content with greater clarity and across a broader subject base.

5) Develop the Experiences

This is a consciences effort to gain experiences in a specific area of your life. It involves the intentional effort to schedule opportunities to gain those experiences. This might include joining a speech club, joining a social club that requires regular presentations, volunteering for a role in an upcoming conference, or other roles which enable you to gain experiences.

6) Develop the Feedback Process

This is generally where the wheels fall off the bus. Most people rarely seek critical feedback. We just like to be patted on the back and complemented. However, this does little in the development of our skills. It is vital that we have competent people to provide us with valuable feedback that doesn’t undermine our confidence, but challenges us to improve. This means we have to be very selective in who we choose to listen to for feedback. Ideally, if you are able to develop a mentoring relationship with some of the people who are currently modeling the type of presenter you want to be, they can provide the best feedback that will challenge you to build your skills.

7) Develop the Refinement Approach

Feedback is meaningless unless it is put to use to refine your skills. This means we have to develop a refinement approach that evaluates the feedback we receive. Then, develop an action plan to implement changes to address the feedback. This is where trial and error comes into play. It is good to experiment with different styles and presentation techniques. However, trial and error is only valuable if you have adequately developed your strategic approach that enables you utilize trial and error in a meaningful way.

Confidence is not a character trait with which you are born. It is the result of successful experiences. Developing a strategic approach to building your confidence can fundamentally transform your life. However, it won’t just happen. You have to be very intentional in the development and execution of the strategic approach.

Experience develops confidence. Confidence overcomes fear. Therefore, you have the ability to confront your fears and develop your confidence by the experiences in which you choose to take part. So, make a choice and go be GREAT!


Want to develop your public speaking ability? Coaching and training is available from Cinnatus Consulting. Contact Warren Martin for more information.


About Warren Martin

WARREN MARTIN is a philosophy graduate of Texas Tech University. He is an author, teacher, minister, artist, quasi-philosopher and speaker known for his unique teaching style. His passion is to share the grace of Christ and to inspire & invest in the next generation of leaders. Learn more here...

© 2014 Warren Martin. All Rights Reserved.