Communication Anxiety:
Fear of Public Speaking

By Barbara Rocha

Communication anxiety. It's everywhere and it’s not your friend. The good news is: it’s curable. No tricks, no mantras. Understand it. Look at it differently and it’s gone.

microphone communication anxietyIt’s normal. Most of the people you know suffer from it, but let’s be clear – it’s nobody’s friend. Yet, it’s not the same for everyone.

Most people suffer from it when speaking to groups – any group. Some are okay when speaking to peers, but not strangers. For others, it’s the opposite: they’re fine with strangers (after all they’ll never see them again) but not with their peers (“maybe they’ll discover my flaws” Realistically, they probably all ready know those and whatever happens when you’re speaking probably won’t make any difference.)

Many tell me they’re good one-on-one, just not in front of groups. But there are those who are quite comfortable speaking to a group but are miserable one-on-one.

Interestingly, it’s not confined to speaking to groups. There are the issues of networking, cold calling, and reporting to the boss, the board of directors, or an important client.chewed pencil communication anxiety

Yes, communication anxiety is everywhere. So, if almost everyone has some form of it, does it really matter? Indeed it does. The anxiety interferes with getting your work done–because you’re worrying about or avoiding speaking. It causes stress which usually turns up as something physical to deal with. It keeps you from fully marketing your business, reaching out for clients, making sales, looking effective, getting promotions and raises.

For thirty years, I’ve been helping people get the benefits of getting rid of communication anxiety with in-house seminars, public seminars and coaching. And it all started because it was a problem for me. It turns out there is a logical way to banish anxiety that completely got rid of my problem thereby making it possible for me to do the same for thousands of others. It’s simple but not necessarily easy because we’ve been doing what comes naturally – that is, worrying about looking bad.

The main thing: learn to shift from focusing on yourself to focusing on what you want to do. Someone in the first class I ever taught (a speaking class) improved her bowling average 20 points from shifting her focus from herself to knocking down the pins. Amazing. She applied what she learned about speaking in my workshop to bowling, and it worked there, too. Others have applied it to golf, managing, selling, and relationships

It’s natural to think about ourselves. But that means it’s natural for everyone else to be thinking about themselves.

For instance, imagine you’re at the gym, and as you look around the room, you look at someone. Why? Maybe you’re wondering how many sets they’re going to do and when you’ll be able to use that machine. Or, you’re wondering what muscle that exercise is working? Or if you should tell them they’re doing it wrong. Maybe they’re really overweight. Or they look great. As in HOT. Maybe your eyes just happen to stop at that person, but you’re lost in thought and don’t even really see them. Mostly all those observations are about you, not them.

Because it’s natural to think about ourselves, whatever the reason for looking at them, it’s all about us. Yes, even if they look hot it’s how that makes us feel.

It may be all right at the gym, but it ruins communication. And we’re anxious because we think it’s natural for everyone else to think about us.

The truth is, You can’t really focus on two things at once. Pay more attention to what’s going on than what’s going to happen to you. Pay more attention to how you can help the other person, rather than what they’re thinking about you. Keep your focus on solving the problem rather than on personal inadequacies. It takes some practice but you’ll improve your communication a hundred per cent.

Focus really means staying in the moment yet we spend much of our lives on auto pilot. For instance, how often do you have to reread what you’ve just read because you have no idea what it said? And it’s common to arrive at a destination with no recollection of how we got there. And, often when people finish speaking to a group they ask the person next to them what they said and how it went.

If that’s your state of mind when you speak to your employees, give directions to your team, or praise someone’s work, you’ve wasted your time and maybe, even worse, you've lost ground. Your listener can always tell when your mind is somewhere else which means the message they’re getting is that they’re not important. And that will come back to bite you.

Here are some ways to practice staying in the moment without serious consequences for blowing it.

Try listening to a short news item on the radio from beginning to end without wandering off to think of something else. Or, mentally repeat something you know by heart that’s only about a minute – or less – long (the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, the Gettysburg Address, the 23rd Psalm) again without losing focus throughout.

See if you can give your full attention to the server when they tell you the day’s specials. Look, listen, process, without doing or thinking anything else.

Listen for 2 full minutes to your child or significant other as they describe a problem, situation, or activity.

As you continue to practice these, your discipline/focus muscle will continue to develop and it will get easier. And, as this happens, you should notice a more receptive audience, whether it’s your family or your management team.

Plus, if you’re staying in the right moment and focused on helping solve a problem or ease a situation, you’ll also find your communication anxiety dwindling considerably.

Communication anxiety is everywhere, but you don’t have to suffer from it. Daily, practice focusing on what’s going on rather than on yourself. The pay off will be a whole new you. Well, actually, the real you will show up in what were previously stressful situations that caused you not to be you. The result: huge dividends at work and at home.