And Death Came Third

The fear that is, Public Speaking.

No this isn't an undiscovered book by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, would that it were. Some of you may have come across a book of that title written by Andy Lopata and Peter Roper. It refers to a survey that was carried out a few years ago about how people in the US think about speaking in public.

Death came third in that survey

– Fear of Speaking in Public came FIRST!

You are not alone

If you think about it, this fear of being in the spotlight is natural.

When we lived in hunter-gatherer societies and even before then if you were a single individual in front of a group of people, the chances are that something bad would happen to you. In that situation, your fight or flight response would kick in and your body would prepare you to put up a good fight or run as fast as you could away from the situation.

When that happens, you experience these physical changes

  • adrenaline and other chemicals released into the body
  • the heart beating more rapidly
  • breathing quickening
  • blood flow changing to give your muscles and tendons the power they need
  • focused on a way out so you are not able to think as clearly

The good news is that your body is responding properly to danger. This reaction is there to help protect us. Unfortunately, we also react in this way when we ‘think’ we are in a life-threatening situation. This is what happens with fear of speaking in public.

How you think can trigger the flight and fight response

Do you think

"It's going to be great"


“Oh no, I can’t do that what if I make a mistake?

Do you imagine

A crowd of faceless monsters


A group of smiling, interested people?

Perhaps you remember a time from the past when you were laughed at (at school maybe) or you did give a talk and forgot your words, then felt yourself blushing and then the laptop wouldn't work ....

Whatever the reason you feel worried, you fear rejection or you fear being humiliated when you think about getting up in front of others and talking.

The good news is you can change how you feel

You can learn to become more comfortable speaking in public. Whether that is to a small group or large group, whether that is in front of people you know or people you don’t. You can learn to be more relaxed and calm. To even, dare I say it, enjoy the experience.

There are various organisations you could join like The Association of Speakers Clubs or Toastmasters. They provide a safe and structured environment where you can learn and practice your public speaking skills. You can practice safely and receive helpful and constructive feedback. The more you speak in public the easier it gets. It does, honest!

You can practice and rehearse both physically and mentally. There are self-help audios and books too that you can use to help you.

16 simple steps to comfortable public speaking:

  1. Find a relaxing and pleasant memory to tap into and get used to being in that memory. Use that memory and hold onto those physical feelings as you mentally rehearse your presentation.
  2. Prepare your presentation – notes, PowerPoint, etc. when preparing a talk allow 100 – 120 words per minute. Have a beginning, middle and end.
  3. Rehearse your presentation physically and in your imagination.
  4. Imagine finishing your presentation and feeling comfortable and relaxed. Play it back over to the beginning, notice any questions you may get asked, points that you want to emphasise, notice your stance and breathing.
  5. Focus on your audience. How are you helping them? What are they here to learn from you? What is the most important bit of information you want them to remember?
  6. On the day as you stand or walk to the front of the room take some deep breaths and remember your relaxing pleasant memory.
  7. Breathe, smile, pause before you start to talk.
  8. Stand with your balance evenly spread over your feet. Feet hip-width apart.
  9. Keep your hands out of your pockets (make sure you don’t have keys or money in your pockets)
  10. Keep your shoulders relaxed and head level.
  11. Vary the tone of your voice. This makes it more interesting.
  12. Use gesture for emphasis – otherwise keep your hands and arms relaxed and by your sides.
  13. If using PowerPoint don’t talk to the wall – keep facing the room.
  14. If you make a mistake –– it’s not the end of the world, you can stand the discomfort, you are not a failure, you are a normal human being. You can make a joke of it. I don't know about you but I often find my spelling gets worse when writing on a flip chart or whiteboard - I make reference to it and a joke.
  15. Practice and rehearse – use notes if you want to, however you don’t have to be word perfect.
  16. Remember some excited anticipation is normal and helpful.

There are probably more aspects that I could mention but these are the main ones that will help you get the most out of speaking in public.

One last thing, almost everyone who is listening to you will have felt the same or worse than you do. As we know fear of death came third!

Categories: Anxiety, Embarrasment, Performance Nerves, Blushing