Why Do Some Women Fear Public Speaking?

It’s a very common fear – the fear of Public Speaking, for both men and women, but I believe it affects more women. At least it stops them from progressing in this area.  When you look out there on the public speaking circuit there are far more men than there are women operating at the top level, on the ‘big’ stages.

There may be other contributing factors in this, but the fear of it has to be a big one.

But why is it the case?

In many cases the fear of public speaking has it’s roots in childhood and upbringing.

Many women – especially those born in the 80’s and before – were brought up a certain way.  Girls have to be nice, and polite and quiet, to speak when spoken to.  Girls are not to ‘show off’ or boast about their accomplishments.

In childhood, unless a new experience is explained, then you create your own meaning. Let’s take an example.  You are 5 years old and you want to tell your parents about something you did at school.  They are busy and shush you away with the instruction to ‘be quiet’.

You don’t understand that your Mum or Dad has a very important deadline and needs to get this project in tomorrow.   Therefore, your brain creates it’s own meaning.  You are a bad girl, it’s bad to interrupt someone when they are busy, your voice is too loud, and what you have to say is really not important.

And so – with meaning attached, anything to do with speaking up is going to go the same way.  Because once we have an opinion on something, the brain will look for more evidence that this is true.  And there will be plenty of evidence if you look for it.

So, with a lifetime of not speaking up, of being quiet, of not showing off, of not interrupting, not speaking up – is it any wonder women have a fear of public speaking?  Quite apart from the actual reality of public speaking and the fear of being judged/forgetting your words and making an idiot of yourself, if you have all of that childhood stuff to stick on top, that’s powerful.  That’s going to make you run for the door at the mere possibility of having to stand up and speak in front of others.

So, what can you do about it?

There are 2 main things that will help you get over your fear of public speaking.

The first is you need to learn the skills involved.  It sounds obvious and it is true.  Just like when you learn any new skill – driving, speaking a foreign language, learning a new software product – it feels clunky at first and you don’t feel very confident.

The more you practise, the more your skill level moves.

At first you are an ‘unconscious incompetent’ (i.e. you don’t even know what you don’t know.  You aren’t even sure what questions to ask never mind what the answers might be).  With a bit more learning and practice though, you become a ‘conscious incompetent’ – meaning you now how much you DON’T know!!  But you are getting better.

After that stage you move to ‘conscious competent’ – so you know that you DO know what you are doing, but you still have to think about what you are doing.  And the final stage is ‘unconscious competent’, where you no longer have to think about it.  Like when you arrive home and don’t remember the actual drive to get there.

With any skill you learn, you can become an unconscious competent.  Including public speaking.  It’s true!

So – your first step is to get yourself a coach or go on a course, and learn those skills and then practise, practise, practise!

The second thing you may need to do is work on the inner voice, the one that tells you that you can’t do it.  There are various techniques a coach can help you with in order to discover what the inner voice thinks, why it thinks it and to change that story that it keeps telling itself – YOURself.

If public speaking – and the confidence to master it – is something that you want to get under your belt once and for all, then email me on cheryl@cherylchapman.com

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