We all want to grow our careers as much as possible, but if you're like a quarter of the U.S. population, there could be one key thing holding you back: your fear of public speaking. An estimated 26% of U.S. adults are terrified of the notion of getting up and speaking in front of a crowd -- that's more than Americans' collective fears of heights, needles, spiders, and even dying.

If you keep passing up the opportunity to speak in public (or, worse yet, keep making up excuses to get out of it at work), you should know that the sooner you address that fear, the more you'll be doing to further your career. Here's how to tackle this common phobia head-on.

Man on stage in front of audience


1. Know your material inside and out

The more confident you are when presenting to a crowd, the less likely you'll be to succumb to your fears. No matter what it is you're assigned to speak about, you can help yourself by becoming intimately familiar with the material you're set to talk about and share. If you'll be featuring a slideshow with data along with your speech, memorize those statistics. Along these lines, think about the follow-up questions your audience might have after hearing your speech, and map out your responses so you're not stuck struggling on the spot.

2. Do plenty of practice runs

When you find yourself in the spotlight, the simplest stumble can quickly escalate, causing you to freeze and forget what it is you're supposed to be talking about in the first place. A good way to avoid that fate is to practice your speeches or presentations numerous times before getting up in front of a crowd. Not only will this help you get more comfortable with the material at hand, but chances are, you'll botch a few key items along the way in front of your mirror. And at that point, you'll have an opportunity to figure out ways to recover in private, which you can then employ in a public setting as needed.

3. Start with a smaller audience and work your way up

When the idea of speaking in front of hundreds of people is enough to make you break out in a full-body sweat, it's best to start slow and work your way up to that kind of audience. If you're new to public speaking, aim to present to a smaller audience before facing a massive one. If, for example, you're asked to give a speech at a company-wide meeting, ask two or three trusted colleagues to congregate in a conference room the day before and indulge you in a trial run. Once you get comfortable with a smaller audience, you're likely to find that it's a fairly easy transition to a larger one.

As you climb the ranks at work, you're likely to find that you're required to speak in public in some capacity, whether it's at team meetings or outside events. Follow these tips, and with any luck, a day will come when you won't dread public speaking to the same degree you do at present.