How Fear Of Public Speaking Can Hold Back Your Career

It's known as FOPS and it's everywhere.

31/08/2016 12:47 PM AEST | Updated 01/09/2016 7:35 AM AEST
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Overcoming a fear of public speaking could see your career flourish in ways you never expected.

If you suffer from Fear of Public Speaking (FOPS), you are not alone. It's absolutely rampant in the workplace. In fact, it's often quoted as being in the top five of a human's biggest fears. Some studies rank FOPS as number one. Number two is death.

The idea of standing in front of other people and speaking about a topic – ANY topic - is enough to throw some people into the depths of terror.

Public speaker and psychologist Justine Armstrong told The Huffington Post Australia FOPS is damaging people's career; particularly women.

"I know of women who haven't gone for promotions because it means they will need to do some public speaking in their work life. Many women put their career development on hold because they can't face their fear of speaking," Armstrong said.

"It's no longer just those who give keynote presentations who are required to speak. Speaking is becoming a very necessary skill and if you don't have it, your career can go backwards quickly."

"Women seem to suffer more than men, because as a whole, women are more likely to lack self confidence in the workplace."

Justine Armstrong
Justine Armstrong

Armstrong said many people who are anxious about public speaking have had a bad past experience that might have left them feeling humiliated.

"It's no longer just those who give keynote presentations who are required to speak. Speaking is becoming a very necessary skill and if you don't have it, your career can go backwards quickly."

But speaker and presentation skills coach Bernadette Schwerdt told HuffPost Australia men would also suffer greatly from FOPS; they'd just be less likely to admit it.

"Women are much more upfront about revealing their flaws, or reasons why they don't succeed. Most men don't say, 'I couldn't get up and speak.' But a woman is more likely to talk about potential setbacks or fears," Schwerdt said.

"First you need to structure your presentation, then learn how to manage your nerves so you can focus on the actual delivery. Most people don't think to separate those different skills. Public speaking isn't easy. It takes time, effort and skills. What's deceptive is that when we see somebody like Richard Branson on stage, who can speak so eloquently, we forget that he has had hundreds of hours practice and preparation over the years."

Bernadette Schwerdt
Bernadette Schwerdt believes there are many ways to master public speaking and get over your fear.

"The higher you go in an organisation,the more presentations you're expected to give. So if you want to progress you have to accept those opportunities because the more exposure you have, the more competent you seem on stage and the more people think you're good at what you do."

Armstrong believes the biggest trap people fall into when public speaking is trying to deliver too much information.

"This can just bore the audience. Instead, go for an entertaining story that highlights a point you're trying to make," Armstrong said.

Justine Armstrong's Public Speaking Tips

  • It's your right to be nervous: Often women give themselves a hard time for being nervous in the first place. The self-talk will be extremely critical, which is self-fulfilling. Tell yourself you have every right to be nervous and then use that adrenalin to your advantage.
  • Don't be fake: Authenticity is the key to overcoming your fear. People can spot a fake a mile off so be yourself. It doesn't have to be perfect and let them know you're not perfect, as that will help your audience warm to you.
  • Inspire: Don't be afraid to offer some words of inspiration or motivation to your audience. People will remember how you make them feel, not the facts and figures you share
  • Death by Powerpoint: There's nothing worse than listening to a lot of data read from a powerpoint screen. Get into the information and speak from the heart – once you're thinking about the content you're sharing, the spotlight moves away from you and your nerves.

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