The fear of ExPRessing yourself


“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”  — Jerry Seinfeld

Does Seinfeld look scared?

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld

If my students’ reaction to a public speaking assignment is any indication, my fellow Massapequan Jerry Seinfeld is right. Nothing seems to instill more dread than giving a speech in front of 20 fellow classmates. So can you imagine the fear when you have to make a presentation to 50 or 100 or even a thousand people? What happens when the day comes when you’ll need to express your ideas to your boss or the management of your company? If you’re in PR, you’ll be giving media presentations, tours, emceeing events, and acting as a spokesperson for your clients to the media.

Texts and experts provide us with helpful hints on making a good speech: Stand up straight. Anchor your body. Don’t read. Lead with a story or joke. Keep it short and simple. Slow down. Use your hands. Make eye contact. End with a strong conclusion. It’s an awful lot to remember, especially if you’re nervous.

When I worked in radio, speaking on the public airwaves was easy for me because I never saw my audience. And although I’ve since made hundreds of presentations and have taught hundreds of students, I can still have moments of nervousness before I begin. I’ve found the best antidote for the fear of expressing myself in front of an audience is plenty of preparation. This is true whether I’m about to teach a class or make a presentation or a speech. The more I’ve familiarized myself with the material and the more I’ve actually practiced out loud, the more calm and comfortable I am.

Expressing yourself on a piece of paper is challenging enough. Expressing yourself to a group can be frightening. Just ask Jerry Seinfeld. He does it all the time, and with plenty of preparation and rehearsal. Your thoughts?

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44 responses

  1. […] Relations Nation recently posted a blog post titled, The fear of ExPRessing yourself that gave some tips for how to deal with the fear of public speaking. They gave a few good ones, […]

  2. Christina Sewell | Reply

    The first thing I think about when I have to speak in front of a crowd is “ugh I hate the way my voice sounds.” I think that’s my biggest fear, subjecting people to my voice. I don’t necessarily mind speaking in front of a crowd (especially if I am interested in the topic). It’s funny because people love to speak about themselves (be the center of attention) on social media but would we say the things we write aloud in front of millions of people (probably not). Perhaps I should concur this fear of sounding too nasally, or worrying about whether my voice sounds like a man or not. With PR as a profession, there’s no room for insecurities.

  3. Public speaking for many is a great fear. For myself, as an aspiring on air journalist public speaking for me is fun. I love engaging with people and being able to tell a story and receive feedback. In any job we chose I think the time will always come when we need to talk to a group of people. If you are confident in your material then I believe the confidence will come through in your presentation.

  4. I’ve read somewhere that more people fear public speaking than fear death. I’m not sure if that’s true or an exaggeration, but I’d bet public speaking is at least at the top of the list of “least-liked” activities for most people.

    My background in theatre has made public speaking a fairly laid-back aspect of PR for me. What I tend to have trouble with is remaining “real” when I talk to an audience, and not acting like I’m putting on a show in a theatre of performance context. I think it’s extremely important for PR professionals to remember this when speaking, as well. They should be prepared and ready, but try their best to not to sound rehearsed or disingenuous.

  5. I absolutely agree with everything you said, but sometimes I think that even with a plenty of preparation, you still can’t help but feel nervous. I took a public speaking course and I thought that it was harder than my computer science course, because it was not about how much knowledge you have, but how good your skills are and skills take time to hone.

    The instructions we had to follow when delivering a speech were overwhelming. We had to sound good and convincing and all while looking presentable and confident. (Body language was definitely the hardest to control). I don’t feel at ease even when I’m just talking about public speaking. -_-

  6. Public Speaking is common fear for most people. Practicing your speech vigorously is key. My biggest hurdle to overcome when giving a speech, is making sure my accent does not come out. I tend to speak faster and mispronounced words when I’m nervous. Practicing in front of people helps relieve the anxiety.

  7. Public speaking is a task that I dread as much as the next person, but I’ve just begun to get more comfortable with it. I find that speaking up in class and contributing to lessons makes it much easier to get up and present something to them. It’s easy to talk in front of a group of people who you know and are comfortable with. On the other hand, speaking in front of groups of people who don’t necessarily know you can be extremely stressful, especially if this will be their first impression of you. Public speaking is uncomfortable and frightening, but the best way to get through it is to practice and sound as confident as possible. The audience doesn’t know you’re nervous unless you tell them.

  8. Having emceed several events as a representative of my graduating high school class and hosting a local public access television show in my hometown, I was forced to get over my fear of public speaking and I have grown to love it!
    I think the most important thing to remember about public speaking is to not fear messing up. What often instills fear in people, especially my friends and fellow classmates who have to take a speech/public speaking class, is the fear that they’ll mess up and be forever embarrassed, condemned by society for not being able to control their nerves.
    Just like any PR professional would do, students should take a seemingly bad situation and make it better by playing their mistake to their advantage. For example, when I emceed my class’ introductory night performance, I stumbled over a part of my script, and this was being videotaped to be saved to dvd and broadcasted all over my hometown. However, I took this situation and made a joke about my vice principal’s condemnation of mistakes and the crowd enjoyed. Not that it was the most clever or funny joke, but it made my speech a little more human and less scripted. There’s never a real need to be nervous because every one knows it takes a lot to be in front of a class, a stadium or an auditorium full of people.

  9. Public speaking is nerve racking, plain and simple. I think preparing helps somewhat but my preparations always seem to go out the window once I’m in front of the mob. There’s just something unsettling about not having any time to correct yourself. You can’t edit in real time and unlike an article you have to see people’s facial reactions to your words. Unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. Hopefully practice makes perfect.

  10. Before coming to Hofstra, I wasn’t a fan of public speaking. Like many, it was a fear I had. During my first year at Hofstra I took the public speaking course. While going into it I was scared, today I think it is one of the best classes I have taken so far. It was really helpful in trying to get over the fear of speaking in front of people. One thing that was stressed a lot in that class was preparation. Before every speech, we were encouraged by our professor to create an outline of our speech. This wasn’t something that had our speech written out word for word, but rather an organization of our thoughts. I found it was so much easier to give a speech after preparing this way. We weren’t allowed to bring our papers up with us, but with our outlines and practice, we didn’t need to. While public speaking can be nerve-wracking, it’s much easier when you prepare yourself and go into it with a positive attitude.

  11. I am terrified of public speaking. Whenever I get up and speak I always get nervous and stubble whenever I talk. However, I do enjoy performing in plays and musicals and for those performances, the audience is much larger. The thing is when I’m on stage and performing I portray a character and I don’t that get that nervous because the character is something that I bring to life. In other words, the character isn’t real but it’s the actor’s job to make it real. But when I’m speaking in front of a crowd I’m portraying myself. I do practice speaking in front of crowds but it’s just something that takes time and practice.

  12. Public speaking is a huge fear of many. I had a professor tell me once that people place the fear of public speaking before death. In my opinion, it is definitely something you get use to. It is always a little terrifying, even if you have done it hundreds of times. What always helps me is to practice over and over. When you are well rehearsed on the topic and you know it as well as you can, you will be a lot more successful than if you just go up there and wing it. Also, it helps if you can use a PowerPoint. The audience will be more focused on the screen than you. It also helps to have a guideline that you can refer to.

  13. Kendall Berman | Reply

    I certainly think it depends on the person. I took Public Speaking at Pace University with a very critical, yet informative professor. Because students and teens tend to be mroe judgemental of each other, at first it was very difficult to adjust to. I had made speaches before — in front of many more people than only 20, but for some reason, it definitely took some getting used to. I find it easier to present a speech in front of elders than peers. Just my personal oppinion. I also find that practicing and the more you do, the more comfortable you become with it. People fear expressing their oppinions and “true colors” which is why they hide behind a screen on Facebook and other social media platforms. I think it’s something that should be further integrated in the education system at a younger age; because I agree, public speaking and speaking in front of groups is inevitable going to happen in one’s career and it’s a very important life skill.

  14. Public Speaking can be very nerve racking. For me it is easy to speak to a group of friends or co-workers, but when I am told I have to give a speech, my heart begins to race. The formal aspect of it makes it seem like its the biggest job in the world. It’s a fear that I can learn to get over with practice.

  15. Public speaking makes everyone nervous. I know for myself, as soon as I start speaking my nerves calm down. The anticipation is the worst part of it all, but once you get going it’s all downhill from there. Public speaking is a skill I would like to work on because when someone is good at it, it can command a room and be a vital way to get messages across.

  16. I find this extremely accurate. Taking public speaking was the most nerve-racking thing I had to do. I never really realized how important public speaking was to the Public Relations profession. After taking the class I become so much more confident and speaking in public and realized just how important public speaking was. I think everyone needs to have skills in public speaking in any profession, especially PR.

  17. Catherine Benny | Reply

    I have experienced fear of public speaking several times throughout my academic career and will probably continue to experience it for a long time to come. Although it is also difficult to express your thoughts on paper (or in a blog like right now), I feel like you have more leeway with writing because you can proofread and correct your mistakes. In public speaking, once you make a mistake, the whole room goes dead and you can’t take it back. In a sense, it’s kind of like the Internet, once you put it out there, it’s out there for good and everyone knows it.

  18. Avalon Bohunicky | Reply

    Public speaking tends to usually have the same effect on students of my age. Whether it is to briefly discuss what you wrote about in your paper for the class while in your seat or giving a presentation at the front of the room, most students are frightened to speak in front of their classmates. I believe that a lot of it has to do with a fear of embarrassment. I prefer small classes because I feel intimidated and worried that I’ll embarrass myself if I ask a question or say something wrong in front of a large amount of students compared to a smaller size group. However, people of all ages deal with this fear, not just students. I do tend to fear public speaking, but once I actually begin to talk to my audience, I grow more comfortable and can open up and relax more. Public relations practitioners should become comfortable speaking in front of crowd of any size, as long as they are well prepared and have memorized the key points that they want to touch upon during their speech.

  19. Olga Varnavskaya | Reply

    Public speaking skill is absolutely important for a lot of different professions. The ability to speak publicly is based on the ability to organize your thoughts, being able to share them with other people. That’s a big part of communication process, which is essential in our life. Colleges and universities should necessarily teach this skill to students of all specialties. And of course, a big part of this training should be how to control anxiety, emotions and fear when speaking in public.

  20. If it’s true that the success of a speech is judged not only by the knowledge sent but also by what the listener receives, the overall performance by class PR263 receives a big fat “A” from me for the engaging and educational presentations delivered yesterday.
    I was immersed in each speech presented. I learned an awful lot of information in a short ninety minute session. I gained awareness about important social causes, from cancer and autism foundations to current environmental and financial concerns for college students. I was persuaded to adopt healthier health habits, less salt and sugar is a must. I caught up with the latest news on pop culture, and learned about new trends in television and movie programming. I even got the urge now to visit Rhode Island this summer.
    While speaking publicly can be terrifying, it is a crucial skill to have in the business world. Once you conquer this skill in the classroom, it will be much less stressful when you have to perform in the workplace. We’re lucky to have the chance to practice public speaking in class with little or no risk.

  21. I feel like in a lot of ways, I’ve made peace with public speaking in the classroom sense. Speaking in front of 20 peers for an assignment no longer gives me much anxiety. However, I imagine that in real world situations, I’m going to one day feel the nerves return. The one thing that I’ll always keep in the back of my head to calm myself down, though, is that I don’t give myself the credit or confidence I deserve, and that is something I can realize to calm my nerves.

    One thing that has truly comforted me is something that my class had talked about in SPCM7 (Public Speaking class). As the public speaker, you’re always going to be more harsh on yourself than the audience. You’ll always find yourself zeroing in on what you perceive to be the negative aspects of a speech you’re giving, even in the moment. However, very often the audience doesn’t see you the same way, and the audience can’t so easily tell how nervous you are. We would test it sometimes as people finished speaking. So often, I’d hear someone say that they feel as though their voice was shaking, while the rest of us saw them as confidently speaking. Even for myself, there were times that I was shocked at the audience’s reactions to my speeches.

    In the future, I plan on using this knowledge to calm myself and take public speaking one speech at a time.

  22. It is natural for someone to not enjoy public speaking. A speaker enjoys it more when he or she knows their audience personally. However, this changes when you have to give a presentation to a room filled with professionals or peers you do not have a long standing relationship with. I took SPCM 001 last Spring, now referred to as RHET 001, and I found myself shaking one point during my speech. Even though I prepared a week in advance on what I was going to say, my nerves kicked in. This is bound to happen and the best way to prepare for this is to just be yourself. I have a dry sense of humor and used that in my speech to make myself more comfortable, which also made my audience enjoy my speech more. By being myself and practicing in advance, I ended up with an A.

  23. First off, I love that you included Jerry Seinfeld in here. Seinfeld happens to be one of my favorite shows. But this is every true. I’m a journalism major, I’ve broadcasted numerous sports games on the airwaves, and have done live interviews on camera. However, there is a difference when speaking to an audience. While it may not of seemed it, last week when I had to speak in front of close to 200 people I was a lot more nervous than any game I called this past year. Being a good public speaking is not for everyone, but the more we do it, the more relaxed we can get. I have spoken to plenty of established alumni and broadcasters, and they still say speaking in from of a large crowd is so much different than over the TV or airwaves to a potentially larger audience. And these are people that do it for a living. Call me strange, but the number one fear in the world happens to be one of my favorite things to do, nerves or not. The fear of spiders….that’s a different story

  24. Katherine Hammer | Reply

    I personally do not like public speaking because I get very nervous and tend to talk too fast. However, I try my best to prepare myself with what I am speaking about. Doing this preparation normally helps me relax a little, but I still have those little bit of nerves. I don’t think I have ever met someone who doesn’t get nervous before a presentation, but I think that shows that they are challenging themselves. Knowing that you have to capture your audience within your first couple sentences and continue to keep things interesting during your presentation is nerve wrecking. I think people get nervous that their argument will not be heard. Without remaining interesting, soon your audience will lose interest. I think that is what I find most challenging, keeping an audience engaged throughout the whole presentation.

  25. As I was a host when I was in China, I had real experiences how nervous would it be when speak before a lot of people. I still remember the first time that I hosted a conference. Even though I practiced many times, I still felt soooooo nervous on the stage. I think that all the people fear public speaking, especially the first time. As you said, preparation is a good way to make people less nervous. If possible, go to the scene where you will give your presentation and practice, it will make you feel comfortable and relax, too. For the assignment this week, I really feel more nervous as English is not my mother language. So what you are not good at is a reason that make people feel nervous. Trying to do as many preparation as possible, telling yourself that you can do it, and taking deep breath will help us feel a little relax. Good luck!

  26. Devon Hambrecht | Reply

    I do believe public speaking can be frightening, but I have done it for so many years at this point that it doesn’t bother me much. I have given countless speeches in front of a class room, and even did some acting on a big television screen in a room full of 75+ people. Being prepared is definitely a way to feel less nervous, but I have a way of speaking off the top of my head and saying what comes to mind in a clear manner. I fear for most people who go into public relations with a fear of speaking for a large group of people and that is something that they should get over. I do not fear it and I actually get adrenaline from it most of the time. Speaking straight from a textbook is something i struggle with, so teaching probably wouldn’t be my strong suit. Something with a creative twist or original idea is what i am best at.

  27. Colin Sullivan | Reply

    This is one topic I have never agreed with my classmates on. While we all have aspects of our personal presentation we don’t like and second guess, I find public speaking to be one of the easier forms of communication. Because body language, nuance, and delivery add so much to the message being presented this form of communication, in my opinion, is the easiest to tailor for targeted audiences.

    Another observation I have experienced is that those who fear public speaking the most are often better at it than they think. In classes over the past year and a half students who fear their presentations the most often present very well in front of a class.

  28. I personally do not find public speaking to be that terrifying. In HS i was the class president and made speeches at graduation as well numerous times throughout the year. It came natural to me almost as the nerves were never really there. Some people would rather die than public speak in front of an audience but i feel with some practice and coaching, those nerves can subside.

  29. I love public speaking, LOVE IT, and I don’t know why. I took public speaking in high school almost ten years ago, and again in college. I think it’s hard for people to put themselves out there, and they feel a lot of unnecessary pressure. I believe confidence, even if you’re faking it, is key and makes all the difference. I’ve had my fair share of speeches in the past, and definitely being prepared and reading it over and over has helped greatly with the delivery process.

  30. Francesco Vivacqua | Reply

    It is true. Public speaking makes me nervous too. I think its the lack of exposure of speaking to groups that causes my anxiety. I feel like I don’t have a lot of experience speaking to groups, so I get nervous that I will not be able to convey my ideas in the systematic way that I plan. However, I’ve spoken to groups before and the outcome was always the same. I became monotone, I had trouble looking at the audience, and I stumble on my words because i feared speaking. That being said, I agree with Professor Morosoff. Being well prepared and practicing out loud does make me more calm. The more I know my material, the easier it is to speak about it. I know that this is true for a lot of other students, especially those who have less exposure to public speaking. I think it’s a common fear, which is normal. Public speaking is a skill and like all skills, it need to be honed. So it is always a good start to speak in a class room, so by the time we hit the professional world, we are a step closer to being a good speaker.

  31. Yejide Collman | Reply

    In my own experience I have found myself to be more comfortable with my presentations when it’s on a topic that I have a strong interest in. It makes it easier and exciting to present. However in the times that I have had to present on a topic I do not particularly like I’ve spent more time on rehearsing and studying. One trick I found useful is reading in front of a mirror or even recording myself so I can get an understanding of what my audience will be seeing and hearing. It allows me to tweak and become more confident in my presentation.

  32. I actually have no problems with public speaking. I think its one of those things that the more you practice the better you become. In the past I’ve had several experiences with public speaking through conducting student-organization meetings as well as from the professional standpoint. I agree when you say the more prepared you will be able to get through your presentation with ease. The key to public speaking is being confident about your subject matter.

  33. Speaking publicly can make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, but when I am familiarized with the materials I am presenting I feel more confident in front of a crowd. Beginning a journey into the fast-paced PR world means speaking in front of others and presenting yourself in a respectable and intellectual way. When giving a public presentation I believe that memorizing key facts and topics helps rather than rehearsed lines. Going in front of a crowd regardless of size is intimidating, but overcoming the fear helps you attain important skills and proves your expertise.

  34. I absolutely hate public speaking. My memorization skills are terrible. I come up with all sorts of planning and strategies to try to memorize a speech, but it doesn’t work especially if it is a speech I’m not passionate about. My mind tends to go blank every time. However, you are absolutely right. Preparation is key. Maybe I do not practice the material as much as I should. So I will definitely work on that.

  35. LaChele Prophet | Reply

    Yes, I hate public speaking. Funny enough, besides studying to be a future PR professional, I also love acting. It’s a hobby I do in the summer. I go on many auditions in front of casting directors and sometimes even get some background roles, no leads yet. I guess in acting I pretend to be someone else and that doesn’t bother me. Public speaking terrifies me because it’s me in front of a lot people. I hate being embarrassed and looking stupid in front of people. If I’m going to talk in front of people I need to really understand what I am talking about, have notes in front of me and maybe have even practiced it. If someone else gives me something to say I’m fine with saying it in front of a lot of people, but if I actually have to come up with what I’m going to say it’s terrifying for me. When I have to speak in front of a large group of people I try to not make it so serious. I make fun of myself or try to be funny and that helps me get through it. I look over people’s heads and don’t look them straight in the face. I just try to prepare the best I can and get it over with. Public speaking sucks and I can’t wait for this speech assignment to be over with. I pray I get laryngitis.

  36. Brittany Witter | Reply

    I agree that public speaking is terrifying for me personally! I am a very outgoing person in my normal everyday life, but when I am asked to get up and deliver a speech to people, who are all looking are me, I get extremely nervous. I am happy that we practice this a lot in the MA in PR program because I know I will be faced with public presentations a lot in my career and I am happy to be getting the practice and the nerves out now, rather than later.

  37. I was definitely a introverted and shy person my first year at Hofstra. I dreaded that speech class that forced us to take, mainly because I was afraid of public speaking. However, after learning how to comfortably express my thoughts via WRHU (yes, I was even afraid to speak out loud in an empty room) I have learned how to do so in front of people. My palms still sweat, but I am more comfortable with my own voice. I have no problem expressing my opinions or thoughts, mainly because I have found that I come across new/random information in result of it. I think it takes time to be able to find that comfortable spot within yourself, but it’s definitely a nice place to be.

  38. Students including myself find it really difficult to public speak. This is because as time and society changes technology has altered our communication skills. In my opinion public speaking can be painless if one prepares and practices it, and the more speeches you do the more and more comfortable with being the center of attention.

  39. Personally, I don’t hate public speaking but I am definitely scared to give a public speech to a class of 20 or more. My ultimate fear about public speaking is giving a stupid speech. I always dreamed of giving a speech to a large crowd. I would vision myself on a stage looking professional and feeling comfortable in front of my audience. In my vision, I would sound intelligent, not too rehearsed and avoid filler words like “um.” Of course this is my dream but for it to be a reality, I must practice. Writer, Patrick Rothfuss said “Practice makes the master.” I plan on being a master at public speaking but right now I must overcome my fears.

  40. Alexandra Cohen | Reply

    One of my biggest fears is public speaking. I don’t like getting in front of a group of people because it makes me nervous. It’s easier if you have a PowerPoint presentation, notes, or even if you’re reading off the speech. In order to feel more relaxed before giving a speech, you need to practice, practice, and practice again. Making eye contact is also important when giving a speech because it helps connect you to your audience. Giving a speech where you don’t have to look at the audience, like a radio announcement is easier because you don’t have to speck in front of a group of people.

  41. Today, I don’t fear public speaking as much as I used to. But I never spoke in front of a crowd of more than 200 people. For me, preparation is just one of the tools to use to eliminate the fear of public speaking. Practicing public speaking was the most effective tool to eliminating my fear. Knowing your audience, asking for as much feedback as possible, organizing your thoughts beforehand are major keys for successful public speaking. Based on my experiences and evaluations, over-preparing and thinking too much about the speech could build up a lot of anxiety. I found that when I am asked to speak last minute about a subject, there aren’t as many fears. I might not be able to deliver as smooth of a message than I would when I prepare my main message, but the fear isn’t there as much. When I took a public speaking class last semester, my professor had me specifically work on my transitional skills. I could really go off on a tangent which can ultimately lose my audience. I love public speaking. It’s the main reason I chose to major in public relations. But who knows? Maybe I turn my fear into a rush that I can’t get over.

  42. I’ve done a fair share of public speaking, and from my experience I have found that the more practice I have, the better I speak. When hosting a charity pageant show, I was forced to ad-lib quite a bit, and fill unexpected amounts of time. There was a stark difference between the material I had prepared, and the material I had to come up with on the spot. By preparing ahead of time, I was able to practice all of my lines, jokes, and banter with my co-host. I would much rather give a prepared speech than an improv act any day. With each time I practice, I become less and less nervous about the presentation to come.

  43. Laura Schioppi | Reply

    I hate public speaking especially if you can’t read from the paper. I believe powerpoints or handouts are a helpful tool for the audience. This is because the presenter is giving their speech while the audience are looking at other materials. It is important to practice before giving a speech. Try to remember the main points of your speech so you’ll be comfortable enough not to look at the paper. Good luck everyone!

  44. I feel like every student I know hates public speaking, it is a very common fear. I can relate, I don’t enjoy public speaking but I can get through it. I agree with you when you say if you are well prepared and know your material well you can get through the presentation with more ease. Like they all say: practice makes perfect.

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