President, Lefkoe Institute

Morty Lefkoe argues that the fear of public speaking is not simply “human nature,” and it is surmountable.

May 13, 2011

If you fear public speaking more than going to the dentist, or even death, you are not alone.

This fear is so common that surveys indicate that over 50 percent of the adult population in the U.S. experiences fear when speaking in public. As Seinfield put it quite accurately on one of his shows: Most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

We have had a number of clients whose fear of speaking in pubic was so great that they turned down promotions rather than take a job that required them to speak in public on a regular basis. The saddest call we ever received was from a man who said his daughter had just told him that she was about to get married and this news made him petrified. Why? Because he realized he was going to have to make a toast.

So what makes speaking in public so common and so frightful?

If you’ve been reading my blog posts regularly, you won’t be surprised to learn that my answer is: beliefs.

In fact, after helping over 5,000 people eliminate this problem, we’ve discovered the specific beliefs that cause this fear.

  • Mistakes and failure are bad
  • If I make a mistake or fail, I’ll be rejected
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m not capable
  • I’m not competent
  • What I have to say is not important
  • People aren’t interested in what I have to say
  • I’m not important
  • What makes me good enough and important is having people think well of me
  • Change is difficult
  • Public speaking is inherently scary

Want to read more on public speaking? Check these out:

I think most people would agree that anyone with these beliefs would fear public speaking. And here’s why: a belief is nothing more than a statement about reality that we feel is true. And if we think it is true—that it is bad to make mistakes and if we do we’ll be rejected—and if our sense of importance is dependent on others thinking well of us, then we would have to be terrified when we stand up to speak in front of others because we could make a mistake, leading to rejection.

But you might be thinking: I am afraid to speak in public, but I don’t agree with most of these beliefs. Here’s a strange thing about beliefs: It is possible to intellectually disagree with a belief we hold. In other words, early in life we might have concluded as a result of interactions with our parents that it’s bad to make a mistake (because mom and dad got upset when we didn’t live up to their expectations).

Now, today, we might realize that innovation is possible only if we are willing to try new things that might not work out. Mistakes are part of the process of doing something new and different. So we “know” that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. But merely knowing that does not get rid of beliefs.

If fear is not inherent in public speaking and if the fear is caused by specific beliefs, then eliminating the beliefs will eliminate the fear. Not reduce it or make it easier to deal with. Eliminate it.

To prove this to yourself, get rid of three of the 11 beliefs that cause a fear of public speaking (and a bunch of other unpleasant feelings) by using a free belief-elimination process at Your fear of speaking in public is not due to “human nature.” You can rid yourself of that terrifying prospect once and for all.