What is Glossophobia? Here’s a hint: it exists as a common human condition experienced by popes and presidents.
It strikes terror in about 70% of the population, often accompanied by sweaty palms, racing heart, stomach pain, increased sweating and weakened brain. This riddle of the complexities of communication paralyzes speakers, leaving them speechless to deal with the trepidation more commonly known as stage fright.
I’ve experienced it and chances are you have too. In my work as an educator, I see it in spades: the fear of failure and the discomfort of being judged or evaluated. Here are some ideas to help tame the performance-phobic beast.
First of all, beware of any program that promises to cure your communication apprehension. Instead, it’s best to learn how to actively manage it. Mom used to say, “If you can’t change something, change the way you think about it.” (She was so wise). So, I remember a few anonymous quotes that support this thought.
“The brain starts working from the moment we are born and never stops…until we rise up to speak in public.”
“There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who lie.”
You get the insinuation of both. Even with a dedicated plan, the dynamics of a live audience means that circumstances can get out of control and this loss of control increases anxiety. Apprehensive presenters tend to focus on their nervousness rather than the message. Add tech issues to the mix and it’s no wonder knees thump and stomach tumbles.
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Planning is key to dealing with the dreaded butterflies. International coach Tom Antion reminds us that “good preparation beforehand helps to avoid a poor performance on the part of the person making the presentation”. It’s painful to see someone crash and burn on the podium; Keep in mind that the audience wants speakers to succeed. This success is in the details. For example, focus on what I call point impact.
In a few sentences, determine your main message and build main points to support it.
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According to the National Communication Association, a good rule of thumb is to have three main points for every 10 minutes of speaking (a 20 minute conversation has about six key points, etc.). This approach helps organize remarks and a well-crafted message increases speaker confidence, which leads to a better outcome.
Other nuances such as appropriate use of humor, eye contact, and non-verbal traits enhance speaker presence and hone platforming skills.
We’ve established that your fight-or-flight reaction can be in take-off mode. To reduce stress, shift your energy to meet the needs of the audience.
It is productive to actively confront your fears through exposure and vulnerability. Best-selling author Brene Brown defines vulnerability as the state of being both brave and afraid. I went there, it’s done.
Additionally, experts suggest finding ways to calm our minds before a presentation with meditation, breathing techniques, visualization, or listening to a favorite musical artist. Although I’m not singing Queen’s lyrics in the Green Room, I’m focusing on the music before a keynote (Freddie Mercury’s rendition of “Under Pressure”, how fitting!) Find out what works for you.
- The public doesn’t recognize your fear as much as you think.
- In general, the discomfort of “all eyes on me” is greatly reduced as the conversation progresses.
- Take a legitimate course, hire a professional coach, and consider organizations such as Toastmasters as valid approaches.
- Include a short story. People remember and respond better to a brief illustration rather than a list of facts.
- Open wide, close wider. Be memorable.
- Ask for feedback from those you trust.
- Be patient with your learning curve.
There really is a way forward. Be brave. Practice these strategies. Small gatherings are safe spaces to hone your style. Over time, most people gain confidence for big events.
TED Talks are a great forum to study competent speakers. Notice the presenter’s presentation skills (no one reads a slide show), brevity, and limited use of filler words. You have this!
Put on your red cape of trust; Freddie and I will cheer you on.
Lisa Waite is a professor of communication studies at Kent State University at Stark. She can be contacted at [email protected]