In the words of Mark Twain, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”. How true! There are very few people who are naturally gifted public speakers. Most people who are successful public speakers realize that they must prepare and practice. For some, the preparation and repeated rehearsal is enough to succeed. However, even with preparation, there are some speakers who suffer from “glossophobia” – the fear of public speaking.
SYMPTOMS OF GLOSSOPHOBIA
Glossophobia is considered to be one of the most common phobias. The comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, has joked that at a funeral, “most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy”. The manifestations of glossophobia can be both physical and verbal. The physical symptoms may include feelings of panic, a rapid heartbeat, perspiration, a dry mouth, nausea, increased blood pressure and/or tension in the muscles of the face, neck, or upper back. Verbal symptoms may include a weak voice, a quivering and/or a tense voice, or an excessively rapid rate of speech. The questions is, what can you do to alleviate these symptoms and overcome the fear of public speaking?
WAYS TO REDUCE THE FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING
First and foremost, practice and prepare. Make sure that you are completely knowledgeable about the topic you are going to present. Anticipate questions that the audience may ask you and prepare your response. Verbally rehearse your presentation aloud with the goal of speaking clearly, smoothly and knowledgeably. Record yourself after you have “presented” your speech a few times and assess how successful your preparation has been to that point. If you were an audience member, how would you react to the speaker? What can you do to make the presentation sound better? Experienced speakers develop an effective cadence, knowing when to emphasize words for greatest impact and how to verbally frame the concepts that they are trying to communicate.
CHANGE YOUR INTERNAL CONVERSATION
Most importantly, switch the focus from you and your anxiety to your audience. Change your internal conversation. Instead of saying “I am so nervous that I think I will be sick”, say “I think I can really help these people with the information that I am going to share”. The goal of your presentation is to have a positive impact on your listeners such that they leave your presentation with new information that they can implement in their lives. To remain focused on this goal, think about a time where you succeeded in helping others to learn new and valuable information and how powerful it felt to be able to share your knowledge with others.
WORKING WITH A SPEECH PATHOLOGIST CAN BE HELPFUL
You can work with a Speech Pathologist who can guide you through the process of decreasing your fear of public speaking. A therapist experienced in the art of communication can teach you where to pause and phrase, what words to emphasize for the greatest impact, how to eliminate distracting fillers such as “um, so, like, you know”. When you are in control of your speech, you are more in control of the situation. Don’t let your fear of public speaking limit your career opportunities and social interactions. Master your fear so that you will have enough adrenaline to be energized but not too much anxiety that nerves will inhibit you. Learn to reduce the stress! Nobody will know that it took you “more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”.