The very idea of speaking in front of a crowd, be it in a professional or personal setting, is more than enough to send a person into a state of panic.
You can’t help but wonder how some people seem to do it with ease – the professor in front of his class, the best man making a toast for a newly-wed couple, even experts in their respective fields delivering TED Talks.
Why does it seem easy for some people to do something that you are deathly afraid of?
You are not alone
If it’s any consolation, you are not alone in your fear of public speaking. Also known as glossophobia, fear of public speaking leaves millions of people trembling in their shoes.
In fact, it is estimated that three out of four people suffer from this crippling fear. Glossophobia ranks as one of the top phobias people around the world have, outranking fear of death, spiders, darkness, and heights.
But what is the reason behind this phenomenon? Why would otherwise smart and confident people go through various lengths just to avoid speaking in front of people?
The anatomy of fear
For most people, their fear of speaking in front of the audience does not always stem from their actual speech. For many, their fear is triggered by their feelings of standing and speaking in front of other people.
There is not one unifying theory which explains why a lot of people have glossophobia. Instead, many psychologists have put forward multiple explanations about this phenomenon.
Your body is working against you
Public speaking can trigger a fight or flight response in many people. This goes beyond actually speaking in front of a crowd. For some, this physiological response is triggered by the mere suggestion of speaking in front of an audience, leading these people to avoid public speaking opportunities altogether when presented to them.
According to some psychologists, this physiological response is quite common in people who are anxious to begin with. However, some people may be confident in other aspects of their professional and personal lives, and yet experience a high degree of anxiety when presented with a public speaking opportunity. For this group of people, their worries are heightened during their preparations and the moments leading to their actual speaking engagement.
There are also some people who have a condition known as anxiety sensitivity. With this condition, the affected person worries not just over the task at hand (public speaking), but also about his anxiety and how it will affect his performance.
Many people with glossophobia are overwhelmed with negative thoughts even before they step up to the podium. For them, a public speaking opportunity is a task that requires special skills. Failure to accomplish such a task, they fear, can lead to judgment from the audience and a hit on their reputation.
For these people, a public speaking engagement is not an opportunity for expression. Instead, it is a task that ought to be reserved for professional presenters and speakers. And the audience is there to evaluate and criticize them.
Contrast this mindset with a professional emcee who views public speaking like any other task that can be successfully done with confidence and preparation. For these pros, speaking in front of an audience is akin to talking with a close friend – sharing an idea or a story. With this mindset, there are minimal differences between speaking to an audience of one and an audience of many.
Even experienced emcees and public speakers may experience anxiety from time to time. A few circumstances can compound this.
For example, if the speaker has a real or imagined idea that his performance is going to be evaluated, he may feel more anxious than usual.
People whose jobs involve speaking to colleagues regularly may find themselves a little antsy when tasked to speak in front of their higher-ups.
Thought leaders who are about to share a groundbreaking idea to a new audience may also experience a high degree of fear. Although they may be sure of the soundness of such an idea, they may feel some degree of discomfort when they think of how their audience may respond or how their colleagues may point out holes in their theories.
Stepping up to the stage
Whether you have been tasked to make the toast for your best bud’s wedding or present your group’s research in front of the class, you can overcome your fear and successfully complete the task at hand.
It may not be easy, but there are a few things that you can do to bolster your success and boost your confidence.
Make it all about your audience
Most cases of glossophobia stem from the fear of new speakers that they are inadequate to perform in front of the audience.
The best way to counter this is to focus your attention on your audience. This may seem counterintuitive, but if you shift your perspective away from your performance toward giving value to your listeners, you will be able to quiet down your negative thoughts.
Know well ahead of time who will come to listen to you. This will allow you to fine-tune your speech and eliminate fluff.
Some experts suggest outlining your speech into several main points instead of memorizing a huge chunk of text. Memorization can only add more pressure to you. By outlining the points you want to discuss, you’ll be able to focus on your message instead of the sequence of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Just imagine yourself telling a friend about a TV show or movie that you recently saw.
Fake it until you make it
Seize control of your emotions from the time leading to your actual speech. Watch your body language and breathing. Imagine yourself delivering your speech successfully, and your audience will gain more confidence in you.
If your job entails speaking in front of colleagues and bosses regularly, you may want to develop rituals that can provide you with a measure of comfort just like what athletes do. It can be as simple as wearing a specific piece of garment every time you need to make a presentation or wearing a lucky charm.
Starting from somewhere
In life and work, it is next to impossible to completely avoid instances wherein you have to speak in front of a group of people. Instead of steering clear of these opportunities, why not embrace the challenge and boost your success with the aforementioned tips.
Hisham Wyne is an internationally recognised MC, broadcaster, presenter and moderator who helps the world’s best-known brands create memorable occasions. He regularly hosts conferences, panel sessions, gala dinners and award ceremonies for some of the world’s best brands. With 150+ events under his belt, Hisham is the professional speaker that brands and agencies turn to when wanting to interview, engage and entertain government VVIPs and Hollywood celebrities.