Let's have a show of hands. What is the biggest fear people have?

If you said “death”, you would be wrong.

In fact, the No. 1 fear is a fear of public speaking.

So when people say “I’d rather die than give a speech”, they may be speaking literally.

Why are people so afraid to get up in front of an audience and give a speech?

Basically, people are afraid of being humiliated in front of others.

Some may have negative experiences in the past, such as having been laughed at by the other kids in school when in front of the class.

But, for most people, it is the general fear that they are going to get up on stage and perform badly — that people won’t like them.

This fear can manifest itself in many ways:

* You get “butterflies” in your stomach.

* Your palms sweat.

* Your hands shake.

* Your knees also shake and you feel as if your legs are about to collapse.

* Your heart beats much faster than normal.

* You experience a “fainting” feeling.

* You have panicky thoughts.

Now, many of the above are quite normal reactions. In fact, some experts say a mild level of anxiety is good before you give a speech as it gives you a burst of energy, resulting in a more dynamic presentation.

But if the fear of public speaking is keeping you from advancing in your career or keeping you away from certain social situations, then it is time for you to act.

Practise, practise, practise

Most people don’t want to hear this, but the best way to conquer a fear of public speaking is to practise, practise, practise.

Facing any fear head-on allows you to control it, rather than let it control you.

Your over-reaction to your fears is really your brain trying to protect you from what it perceives as a threatening situation.

Feeling faint is a good way to keep you off a stage, saving you from the threat of humiliation. But, the more you experience the “threatening” situation without the harm (humiliation), the more you are able to extinguish that fear.

A good way to begin feeling comfortable about presenting publicly is to start small.

Start sharing stories with friends and co-workers. This could be something you read about in the news or something you did over the weekend.

The point is to practise speaking in front of others and feeling successful at it.

If you have no problem speaking socially in front of friends but shake at the thought of getting behind a podium and speaking in front of strangers, then practising behind a podium is what you must do.

There are speaking clubs, such as Toastmaster’s International, which meet weekly in cities all over the world.

For a nominal fee, you can join a club in your area and practise speaking in public and listen to speeches on a weekly basis.

You will also receive feedback on your weaknesses as well as your strengths. You will probably be surprised to find out that you are better than you thought you were.

‘But I’m too afraid to practise’

If your anxiety level or social phobia is so great that you are having extreme trouble getting into the practice phase, there is some hope for you as well.

People who need to learn ways of coping with the fear of public speaking sometimes resort to psychotherapy as well as hypnosis.

For extreme anxiety, there are also medications such as beta-blockers that can provide some temporary relief; enough to possibly help you gain a positive speaking experience.

The point is, you don’t have to allow your fear to rule your life.

For some, the ability to give a speech in public can mean closing a sale, getting a promotion or charting a new career path.

It would be a shame, with all the resources now available to help you conquer your fear, to allow that fear to win.