Over the past several years, my feelings on this topic have evolved. I spent over 23 years of my adult life being terrified of Public Speaking such that it put my career into a deep freeze. I overwhelmed myself with the fear of looking incompetent, being laughed at, and looking pathetic. I would almost pass out at the thought of standing in front of a group even though I seemed to excel in one-on-one communication.
After years of study, practice, and a determined mindset to “harness” this fear, I succeeded in harnessing the fear even to the point of writing a book on the findings of my research and teaching others to improve their public speaking skills.
I gave a presentation yesterday at a service club on Public Speaking for Introverts, and had some interesting questions come up. One of them was, "How did you overcome your fear, specifically?" I actually did go to a public speaking consultant, and they helped me by observing my speeches, then working with me to not only organize my speech therefore improving my message, but to also give me the practice of presenting to a room; even though they were the only one in it at the time! The effect was to gradually give me the confidence to realize that I had the ability to do it. I could get in front of a group and, with an organized speech, and lots of practice, my message would be focused and interesting. It had such a positive effect on my professional life, that I too provide public speaking consulting as part of my business. It's a wonderful feeling to see someone with my same initial fear become a successful and confident speaker.
My feelings now (knowledgeable of The Francis Effect) are that most of my fear was based on an overwhelming amount of self-consciousness and selfishness. I was so self-absorbed, my own feelings of fear were more important than any useful information I could share with others, thus stopping me before I got started. The price was many years of lower pay, less help to others, and wasted time of friends enduring my private proclamations that I knew better than the brave people in front of the group.
If you can get the mindset that your message is more important than how you look, then, the fear will not debilitate you as it gives way to courage resulting in valuable information you will share with others.
Focus on your message and the audience, not yourself.