There are eyes watching you. 

Your palms: still sweaty. Your legs: still shaking. Resisting the urge to run screaming away as fast as possible, you take one step in front of the other – all the while as an amorphous clump of people watch you in relative silence, unaffected and indifferent to your plight.

You step up to the mic.

Why did that, you may ask, sound so much like a death march than the lead up to a speech? Funnily enough, considering this study by the Times, to some public speaking is actually classed as worse than death. But why is that? Doesn’t it involve an action that the majority of people in the world use personally, speaking? 

To people who pose that as a serious argument, I commend you for your naivety. (Or extreme confidence - either way, I’m jealous.) Public speaking notoriously invokes several of humanity's worst collective mundane nightmares; addressing both peers, underlings, and superiors, being singled out, being the only person speaking in a silent room, and speaking about whatever you’re talking about may hinder more than help you. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety affects 73% of people, a sobering statistic. 

So what, you might be thinking at this stage. If it’s so unconquerable a task, why even bother. My answer is that public speaking, while doubtlessly a daunting, terrifying process, can be a great opportunity to promote yourself, your ideas, or great causes the platforms they so desperately may need. But in order to get the benefits, we must first fight the symptoms.

Ultimately, what most people fear about public speaking isn’t truly the speaking, but their own nervousness, a negative feedback loop that often ends in tears. Public speaking can lead your "fight or flight" response to kick in - adrenaline courses through your bloodstream, your heart rate increases, you sweat, and your breath becomes fast and shallow -  and that is the true danger when trying to address a group of people. So what can we do to combat the problem?

•    Step one; you just completed it. Becoming aware of the issue is how you fight the symptoms, after all. Stop thinking about yourself, disassociate from your fear and nervousness, and the battle’s already there. At this point, your instinct might be to scoff. “Stop being nervous and public speaking will be easier,” a theoretical person might say, eyebrow raised in disbelief. “Duh.” But we haven’t gotten to the means with which you’ll be able to move away from it, which is step two.

•    Step two: Focus on your audience instead.  think of your speech as a conversation that you're having with one person, If their numbers scare you; remember that you’re trying to connect with these individuals, so search for that friendly face in a crowd. (Or plant one in yourself.)In the end, they’re individual humans in their own right, so take them down from that pedestal. 

•    Step 3: be observant. Plan appropriately, practice, and don’t panic if you stumble – just return to where you were, and know that most often it is an elongated pause that weakens the speaker than the small mistake before they return to their topic. Talk to other people, perhaps practice your speech with them- are you umming or ahhing, are you making direct eye contact? Know your weaknesses as well as your strength, and that will prepare you for what is to come.

Overall, it is true that public speaking involves a certain element of risk, as performing always does. Appealing to an audience live will always feel different from practicing at home with a safe partner, or to you. Just remember the three rules – focus, observe, and step away from yourself- and hopefully, it’ll be easier – not by luck, but by your own conscious actions - to address groups of people. 

Failing that, before your speech, keep some perspective; It certainly isn't worse than death.