There are tons of myths and misconceptions about public speaking. Unfortunately these untruths serve to reinforce and increase speaking anxiety. I’d like to share with you here three of the twelve myths that my coauthor and I expose in our New York Times bestselling book The Confident Speaker.

Myth #1: Anxiety will continue to increase over time

Many people fear that if they do not do something to control their distress, it will continue to spiral out of control forever or until something bad happens. This is not true.

When you’re agitated, the sympathetic part of your nervous system kicks in and you experience the adrenaline rush that leads to your heart racing, sweating, and trembling. This response will naturally decrease because the parasympathetic component of your nervous system will kick in and reduces the anxiety. This is called “habituation.” Your body and mind get used to the anxiety and it fades away.

Habituation or getting used to anxiety always occurs and makes the fear decrease over time. It is a biological response system. Your anxiety will decrease. Every living organism habituates. One of my colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania is fond of saying, “even sea slugs habituate.”

Sometimes when we are particularly nervous, it may take longer for habituation to occur. In general, the length of time for habituation is correlated with the severity of the fear. In other words, the more serious your anxiety is, the longer it will take for your nervous system to get used to it.

Myth #2: Anxiety worsens performance

It is very common to think that we performed worse because we were feeling anxious. In fact, this belief is a major cause and maintainer of anxiety. Overcome this belief and you are likely to overcome much of your nervousness.

With fear, it is very common to judge how the situation went based on how you felt. Do you think this is an accurate way to assess the effectiveness or quality of the performance? If you said no, you are starting to understand how fear works! There are a number of reasons why it is not accurate to judge performance based on how we feel:

1. Many of our feelings are not visible to others. People think that things are observable to others that truly are not.

2. Our thinking is distorted when we worry. Since thinking becomes less logical and coherent during periods of high anxiety, many conclusions we make are not valid.

3. We are our own worst critics. While we sit around dwelling on the one thing we forgot to say, our audience is actually excited about the four great points we did make.

I often have my clients with performance anxiety speak in front of others and ask the observers to rate the performances. Time and time again we find that high anxiety was not related to poor performance. Someone could be rated as a 9 on anxiety (with 10 being the highest anxiety) and a 9 on performance (with 10 being the best).

Raters almost always also rated visible anxiety as lower than the speakers rated their anxiety. A speaker would give himself an 8 and the observer would give him a 3. This reinforces the idea that how we feel is not the same as how we look.

Myth #4: You should practice and rehearse so much that you will know everything and not be anxious

While it is true that you should practice any presentation so you are very comfortable not only with your material but also with talking about it, over-preparation can be too much of a good thing. You learn to attribute your speech success to practicing over and over and you may not think that you can speak will without such extensive rehearsal. This actually takes away from any confidence you have when you have to give spontaneous or last-minute talks.

One client, Maria, said that she practiced her speech about 100 times and it went very well until the question and answer phase. People asked her about things she was not ready for and all she could think was, “Oh no, I didn’t prepare for this!” In reality she knew her material very well but when it came to saying things that were not rehearsed, she panicked.

Another problem that comes from practicing too much is that you can sound like you practiced too much. When a talk is over practiced, it can become stiff and mechanical sounding. You may sound like you are reading off a teleprompter rather than speaking naturally.

Keep yourself from falling prey to these myths, get practice, and you will overcome your fear of public speaking and become a confident and compelling speaker.

Author's Bio: 

Larina Kase, PsyD, MBA is a business psychologist and peak performance consultant. This article was adapted from her New York Times bestselling coauthored book The Confident Speaker. Get more articles on overcoming the fear of public speaking at http://www.TheConfidentSpeaker.com