Afraid of public speaking? You’ve got bigger things to worry about.

By Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

Are you afraid of public speaking? Statistics would say it’s probable. Further, statistics would say that you are not only afraid, but you are absolutely terrified. Terrified to the point of avoiding public speaking at all costs, even if that means missing opportunities to share your story, thoughts, ideas, and passions.

In the United States, public speaking is our greatest fear, even over death. The question is why?

There are many complicated scientific proposals in the works to explain the severity and prominence of this somewhat irrational fear. But I would argue that the foundation of this fear boils down to a basic concept that we all have experience with: the need to maintain an image.

We do our best to put our best foot forward, please the crowd we perform for and search for approval when it is not clearly evident. Simply put, we like to be liked.

And that awfully simple concept, I believe, is the root of our public speaking problem.

When presenting a speech, we feel as though we must be our best, the best. We have something to prove, a crowd to impress and an image to create.

But why?

The purpose of public speaking is to raise questions, share ideas, advocate for issues that need support and relate to others who feel as though they are alone. It’s a platform where we are given the chance to inspire others to act upon the things we see as worthy of their time, attention and energy.

One of the biggest fears associated with public speaking is the worry that stumbling over a couple of words or forgetting your script will destroy the speech, and ruin your image. Yet none of the speeches I remember most clearly were perfectly rehearsed and stumble-free.

Orators who introduce themselves vulnerably and present a raw, unedited version of the truth⁠—those are the memorable ones. Those are the topics we continue to discuss after the event has ended. Those are the speeches that encourage us to be better, inspire us to be spontaneous and give us the courage to aim for the impossible.

An audience is not looking for perfection; they’re looking for inspiration. Every person desires to have a true passion, something worth living for, but rarely do these passions suddenly appear out of the dust. We need guidance. We need friends, family and sometimes strangers to show us why we should care about a topic.

And sometimes one speech is all that it takes.

How terrifying would it be to live in a world where we deprive the upcoming generation of finding their passions simply because we were too afraid to share our own? How many topics would go unheard of, issues left untouched?

Is your greatest fear public speaking? It used to be mine too until I realized that I had something bigger to worry about. My name is Kristen and my greatest fear is that public speaking is everyone else’s.