Public Speaking: Overcome Your Fear Like ‘the Boss’ Did

40% of people suffer from it: fear of speaking in public. In America, it is even the greatest fear of the people, even above death! Whether it is that bad for you, or whether it only makes you quite nervous – these tips and insights (from ‘The Boss’ Springsteen, among others) will help you in any case.

40% of people officially suffer from a fear of public speaking or glossophobia. For many, it is an even greater fear than the fear of death! Comedian Seinfeld was able to jump into these facts with his imagination that “at a funeral, more people would like to lie in the coffin than to speak for the deceased.”

Lugubrious, but true. Stage fright is really our worst nightmare.

Twain even believes that the percentage of 40% is an underestimate: everyone suffers from it – he says.

Anyway, good to know: you’re really not alone. By no means.

Fortunately, you can also overcome your public speaking fears so that they don’t take on as enormous a size as in Seinfeld’s statement. Because nerves on stage don’t have to be such a nightmare, singer Bruce Springsteen knows.


Yes, ‘The Boss’ – he has something to do with it too. He was always very nervous about every performance he gave, even after he had become immensely popular and could actually do little wrong with his audience.

However, in the course of his enormous stage experience, he managed to convert his nervousness into a good performance. Because, he reasoned, nerves are simply energy currents that run through your body. An energy that you can use very well to perform.

According to research by Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks, Springsteen’s theory is correct and you can also apply it yourself. You do this by – when you’re nervous – saying out loud to yourself “I’m looking forward to it!” Instead of “I need to calm down!”.


Susan Cain has yet another method for making her performances successful. She’s not an outgoing person like Bruce Springsteen is. She has more trouble with ‘popping’ and ‘turning the audience upside down’ full of energy. She is (perhaps most famously) an introvert and a public speaker at the same time. Her mission: to show the world that introverts can be successful speakers – as long as they use their trait to their advantage instead of forcibly trying to ‘be extraverted’. Her bestseller is therefore called Silent: The Power of Being an Introvert in a World That Doesn’t Stop Chatting ‘.

What the introverted speaker should do according to Cain: Practice and prepare not only the presentation, but also the fear – by instructing him in advance in a small environment of 20 people, instead of alone in front of the mirror.

“I really had to desensitize myself to my fear of public speaking. I did that by practicing in small, familiar groups in quiet environments where it wouldn’t hurt if I screwed up something.

After a while, you get used to that strange feeling of being looked at by everyone, something that used to horrify me. You get so used to it that it slowly dispels your fear of it. ”

That these works has been proven in studies by the late psychologist and professor Robert Zajonc of Standford University. The fear of public speaking is not about what you say, but for whom you say it. It’s not about the presentation, it’s about the audience. That is where the crux lies, according to Zajonc’s theory and Cain’s practical experience.

“Know your audience”

You can take Cain’s technique of ‘practicing fear on acquaintances’ – if necessary – even further into the actual presentation. You do this like this: make sure that there are a few acquaintances from your ‘practice audience’ in the ‘real audience’, so that you can more easily evoke that familiar feeling that you got from the practice rounds.

Don’t your neighbor and your partner have time to be present, or would the rest of the room be surprised if these strangers (your acquaintances) were suddenly in their midst? Then there is always a simple alternative: get to know the people from your ‘real audience’. Get to know a few before speaking. You do this, for example, by being on time and starting an (informal) conversation with one or more participants who will later participate in your presentation.

Not only is it good to know what kind of meat you have in the tub before speaking, it also familiarizes you with them – and you can turn to the few new familiar faces when you are having a rough time during your performance.

You don’t learn the rest by heart, but let yourself be derived naturally and naturally from just a few keywords on your sheet (or in your PowerPoint – as pointers for what you wanted to say in broad terms.


Remembering your intro and forgetting the rest works for a few reasons:

  • Research shows that mainly the first and last sentences of your story stick to your audience. It is therefore good to get the first few sentences right and to the point and not let the nerves take over, because they so determine your message.
  • If you’ve bitten your way through the first 10 sentences and you notice that your audience hasn’t fired you and you’re still standing there, the rest will follow. Research shows that most of the nerves have disappeared after about 30 to 60 seconds in the presentation. After that everything gets easier and it goes more automatically!
  • There is a clear difference between reading and telling. Your audience will notice when you are reading your story from your magazine or from your head, and it will certainly not benefit their attention span … So force yourself to tell as naturally as possible, by means of keywords instead of complete – van predetermined stories.


If your fear is mainly about making mistakes, then I can reassure you. Everyone makes mistakes, you probably already knew that. But did you also know that about every 10 words that they say something makes a mistake? And that not even anyone notices? Speaking your speech spasmodically flawlessly is therefore not necessary – and does not even make it any better.

Ignore your own mistakes and just talk about it, no one who realizes it as quickly or is as bothered by it as you …

Are you really making a mistake, such as a factual inaccuracy? Or one that your audience will notice and respond to? Do you do something stupid, such as knock over a glass of water or accidentally turn off your laptop? Your response and correction determine the response of your audience. So you are in control, according to Scott Berkun of the book Confessions of a Public Speaker ‘:

Know that your response to an error defines the response of the public. If I spill a splash of water on my pants and react as if the Titanic is sinking, the public sees this event – and me – as a catastrophe. If I react cool, or even better, funny, the audience will do the same. ”

Is making clumsy mistakes your worst-case scenario when it comes to public speaking? Then nothing bad can happen anymore! As long as you keep your own reaction in check. And as long as you know how to convert your nerves into energy (like Bruce Springsteen), you not only prepare your presentation but also your fear (like Susan Cain) and you learn your intro blindly (like Stephen Lucas), it cannot be done at all. More piece! You can take these experienced speakers and their theories all at their word when they give you these advices. Use them!

And remember, the more often you present or perform in public, the easier it gets. Just ask ‘The Boss’.

Felix Tammi

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