The Disadvantages of Public Speaking

When the subject of public speaking arises, often the benefits derived from the experience are covered. The disadvantages, if addressed at all, are only discussed as hurdles to be overcome.

According to the Ohio State University Extension, “Good public speakers are made, not born.” The skill is considered important enough that most of us are expected to look beyond any personal discomfort and find a way through, yet valid reasons exist to avoid the experience.


Good public speaking requires eye contact, voice control, vocabulary recall under stress and in the moment and the ability to speak clearly and in specific about a subject while holding the interest of an audience. Such a degree of control may be difficult or impossible depending on the level of fear experienced by the individual.

The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension advises against using distracting mannerisms during public speaking, yet these gestures may be out of your control if you find yourself experiencing a nervous or fearful reaction. According to Emory University, “The fear of public speaking is common in up to 88 percent of individuals with social phobia, and 34 percent of people in the general population."

For some, anxiety surrounding public speaking may be more than a simple fear reaction; it may be a social phobia with more extreme physical manifestations such as dread, a fight-flight response or even an anxiety attack. Negative experiences during public speaking may serve to support these fearful feelings and unpleasant reactions.

Time Sink

The large amount of preparation needed to ready oneself for an effective speech can take time away from other projects or personal pursuits. Speakers need to not only create an outline, but to create props and visual aids.

A good presentation takes time to write and research; it also takes extensive time to practice, particularly as the speech should be practiced multiple times before the event. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension warns against depending on notes to do the speaking, memorizing a speech or writing it out in its entirety in lieu of practice.

Lack of Control

When performing a public speech, the potential always exists for unexpected questions or the possibility that the presentation will go in an unintended direction. A speaker cannot always prepare in advance for every possibility. An open forum leaves the speaker exposed to unpleasant surprises from the audience.

Public speaking opens the speaker to the possibility of saying something potentially inflammatory, embarrassing or otherwise negative. That may have cataclysmic effects for her career or public image. The speaker may become stuck for an answer or say the first thing that comes to mind, only to find upon later reflection that the idea or the wording used to communicate it was less than ideal. This may compromise the speaker and the cause or entity he represents. A small gaffe or unfortunate sound byte has the potential to be quickly and universally transmitted through worldwide media coverage and social networks online.

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