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February 4, 2021

Biggest Presentation Fear and How to Overcome It

The biggest presentation fear often comes in the form of a question. Really, it’s that nagging, negative internal voice we all have. It loops and loops until we can’t let it go. It can imprison us.

Fortunately, there are some tips and strategies you use to minimize the voice and the fear. Please note, if you have an actual phobia, what I discuss here may help some. However, I recommend you seek help from individuals and groups (support group article, Meetup, National Social Anxiety Center) that are trained to work with individuals with Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking).

Worry is like a rocking chair—it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.


The Biggest Presentation Fear (question)

Anyone who has stood in front of an audience, whether to speak or act, has asked themselves this question at some point. Left unchecked it can get the better of us. Before we know it, we are hot mess.

What will people think of me if I fail?

Let’s be honest. Most of us deep down (or not so deep down) worry about what others think of us. We know we shouldn’t. But the majority of us have been condition from early childhood to think this way. It is a hard mindset to overcome.

Standing in front of a group of people often brings this biggest presentation fear to the forefront. As a presenter, we give ourselves added pressure to be the authoritative voice in the room. “Failing” means loss of credibility and without that, the presentation is meaningless.

To overcome this common anxiety is a shift in mindset. There are a few things to remember to take that extra weight off your shoulders.

biggest presentation fear

The audience wants you to succeed

Those in attendance are there to gain something whether it is new skills, become more informed, or buy a product or service that makes their life easier. They are not there to make fun of you.

When you attend a presentation, are you there hoping the presenter makes a complete fool of themselves so you can snicker and joke about it? Of course not. Many people share this big presenation fear and actually admire you for having the courage to get up in front of the group.

No one is born a master of anything

Think of someone you greatly admire for their skills and knowledge. They did not magically become that way. Because they worked really hard to achieve that level of mastery. Putting self-imposed pressure on yourself to be a master immediately, will only intensify that biggest presentation fear.

Did you know that Michael Jordan, the basketball great, was dropped from his high school basketball team? The coach told him he wasn’t good enough. Rather than shrink away as a “failure,” he practiced and trained until he was good enough to be on the team. His commitment to practice and training made him a legend.

Improve your presentation skills at your own pace

It’s hard not to compare yourself to someone else who has better skills. I fully admit to falling into that trap regularly. Only you can decide the pace at which you will improve. The key thing to remember - every time you practice, you get better. My blog post, Avoiding Common Presentation Mistakes, can give some guidance for improving your presentations.

Not everyone will like what you say and do

Accept it -- you will never get everyone to like what you say and do. Research has shown that it is rare for speakers to get approval ratings of over 96% consistently. Every time you speak, just plan for the odd 3% of the audience to disagree or dislike some part of the presentation. This is a good thing. Trying to be perfect is too much pressure. That pressure contributes to having this "biggest presentation fear."

Wrap Up

Stand in front of an audience is hard. It is natural to be nervous and have a bit of fear. Often, it brings out the biggest presentation fear -- the fear of failure. To not get trapped by that anxiety, you need to make a mindset shift to get past those feelings.

Remember, the audience isn’t the enemy. They are there to learn from you. The more you present, the more experience you have. The more experience you have the better you become. Lastly, give up the notion that you can get everyone to like every aspect of your presentation. Perfectionism is exhausting.

In the comments below, I would love to hear what mindset strategies you use to overcome your fear of failure and to let go of the biggest presentation fear.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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