On Public Speaking: Killer Clowns and Wedding Toasts


I always love when people quote some variation of the above statistic, because it never ceases to amuse me that anyone could EVER be more terrified of public speaking than they are of zombies, clowns, or the dark.

But it’s a truth universally recognized—at least in America—that people are more afraid of giving a presentation in public than they are of death itself.

Why is this, do you think?

The reasoning behind this fear is as personal as it usually is silly. It’s one of my favorite things to ask my consulting clients, and I like to write down their responses because it gives me a lot of insight into the challenges they’re going to face throughout their careers. For example:

If someone says, “I don’t like to talk in public because I’m afraid of people looking at me,” I’m going to assume that they don’t want a very high-profile career. If that’s not the case, then we’ve got work to do.

If their fear is that they won’t be able to clearly express their thoughts, I’m not so worried about that. There are a lot of easy tricks to fix that problem, which someday I’ll probably write a book about. Or something.

Least common out of these responses–and in my opinion, most important–is the worry that “no one will remember what I’ve said, or feel like they’ve learned something new.”

That’s the point, and the first big secret to overcoming a fear of public speaking: looking at it not as a live performance, but a lesson. You’re teaching what you’ve learned to people who want/need to know. Learning is memorable. If you teach someone well, chances are they’ll remember you.

If you’re not trying to change people’s minds about an issue you care about, why bother getting up in front of a crowd at all?

This isn’t karaoke.