You have an important presentation to make but being in the spotlight causes you cold sweats. You stutter, words seems to get stuck in your throat, your body writhe with chills and it’s all because you fear watching your audience yawn at your speech. You suffer from glossophobia (from the ancient greek word for tongue, glṓssa), or fear of speaking in public – but do not give up just yet.
First of all, you are not alone. Fear of speaking in public is one of the most common fears in modern societies. As a matter of fact, it affects people you would not even imagine – from thinkers to economists, Hollywood actors and, even, politicians. It is estimated that 75% of the population suffers from glossophobia and studies even claim people fear less death than they fear speaking in public.
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Understanding the fear
Like any other fear, glossophobia affects both reasoning and body. Besides the predictable mental block, it also translates in physical manifestations such as dilated pupils, faster heartbeat, stiffness of the muscles of the neck and back, body shaking, nausea, hyperventilation, dry mouth and weak voice. Suddenly the speaker freezes in front of his audience.
Glossophobia is a social fear – it was born out of the social need for people to be accepted and appreciated. It is deep-seated in individuals due to millennia of social life evolution. We all want to be part of the group, we need social approval. Our mistakes and failures might end up in our rejection – and jeopardize our survival.
The mismanagement of glossophobia is a threat to any professional career that requires sharing knowledge orally – it means hours of preparation and brilliant ideas going down the drain. No one will give you the privilege of slinking through the back door just because you are panicked. Actually, talking in public will not put your life in danger and people will think they are asking of you something quite simple. Specially if the content is impersonal – like reporting results, or analysing the status of a project.
Bear this in mind – you may not cure the fear, but you can manage it
Like other fears, glossophobia will probably never be gone for good. But you can fight it so it will not become incapacitating or impact your professional life. We give you a small collection of tips, gathered from the testimony of some experts in public speaking who had to overcome their anxiety just like you. Take your notes and start your personal fight.
1. We fear what we are not familiar with
One of the main reasons for the persistence of glossophobia is lack of practice. Talking in public is a skill all speakers keep on mastering during the years. Practice makes perfection. Make a habit out of it and talk, talk and talk. Just as riding a bike, once you get the hang of it, you never forget. After all, you have a voice for a reason, right?
2. Fight silly “what if” questions
“What if people don’t like my speech?”
“What if I am boring?”
“What if my presentation lacks quality?”
“What if my boss thinks I no longer suits his team?”
Give your mind a break. One speech or presentation alone does not prove anyone’s value. Besides, you are focusing on what others will think, which is extremely difficult to dissociate, we admit, but is also harmful to your self-esteem. Successful people do not focus on negative ideas. Instead, they constantly repeat to themselves their best qualities and wishes of success. “I will make my presentation and my message will be clear”. You don’t have to be the best, but you can manage to do your best.
Takeaway: okay, getting others approval is inevitable and you cannot fight it. Involve colleagues or potential listeners and make them part of your learning process. “Where do you think I should concentrate? Do you think I should talk about this? Do you think my tone is adequate?” They will be glad to help you, just never forget the difference between criticism and advice.
3. Be narcissistic about your speech
Before all audiences, you are your first listener. Learn to enjoy listening to yourself and you will share your ideas and words with relish. Many people never had the chance to talk out loud while alone, to set their tone, or play with their voice. The more you repeat your speech, the better you can improve it to reach the right rhythm, mood and tone of voice.
Takeaway: record your speech on your mobile phone, audio or video, take your notes and work on improvements before the bid day. Try not to be so harsh on your voice – electronic devices tend to alter the perception we have of our own voice – and concentrate on the utterance, the pauses, the interjections and the clarity of the message.
4. Keep calm and get ready to kick ass
Being nervous before your presentation is absolutely acceptable. Even if you have prepared yourself for many hours, inevitable silly questions will cross your mind. Many experts in public speaking strongly recommend you take 5 minutes to take a walk or relaxation exercises. In fact, exercise is beneficial for those who have stressful jobs, not just because they will look good, but because exercise has plenty of benefits – it helps relieving from stress and improving memory and gives the energy you need to perform your tasks the best way possible.
In short, relax! Quite cliché, but the word is overused for a reason. After all, is no big deal. Do everything you can to control your nerves before any presentation and you will be ready to face your audience – be it the board members of your company, your boss, your colleagues or hundreds of unknown listeners.
5. Prepare your body
One of the most common manifestations of anxiety is cotton mouth – the uncomfortable sensation of dry mouth that difficult the speech. To avoid it drink a lot of water before your presentation in order to stay hydrated.
6. Take public speaking classes
Experienced professionals may help you identify your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Courses are designed to teach people how to control their nerves, how to improve their self-esteem and structure their speech to make it clear. The feedback obtained is always honest. If you have to speak a lot in public, why not consider taking public speaking classes?
Bottom line, take the challenge. Facing our own fears means reaching an incredible state of satisfaction. Is our own personal success. Once we face our fears, confidence gets stronger – and confidence is contagious.
Do not forget video conferencing is more comfortable than having the audience sitting on the other side of the table, but we hope this article is useful if you fear speaking during a video meeting.
Feeling more confident to speak in from of audiences of up to 500 people? Make video broadcasting sessions for free for 14 days.