The fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia, affects three out of every four people. But what is it about speaking in front of others that is so frightening for us? How does an everyday thing, such as speaking, become a challenge?
It’s not just everyday people that are afraid of speaking. Glossophobia is like all phobias, without prejudice. It can affect anyone, from prince to pauper. An good cinematic example of this can be seen in a recent film, The King’s Speech, which is about King George VI having to overcome his nerves and speech impediment to deliver a crucial speech at a time when the nation is at war.
So why do people suffer from it and what can be done?
The main reason is that people are afraid that their speaking skills will let them down. Being a good communicator is an important part of being a human being—speaking is the best way we have to connect with other people. If we speak and no one listens or understands, it is as if we do not have a voice at all.
Some unusual techniques have been used to cure people of this particular fear. In The King’s Speech famous speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose therapies are branded “controversial and unusual”, asks ‘Bertie’ to shout swear words as loudly as possible.
More conventional ways of controlling the phobia include slowing down over key words that really communicate your thought, speaking in smaller units, and so taking more pauses, which means you have more of a chance to breathe. Try also to make eye contact with your audience around key points of your speech.
If you have a speech coming up, practise it in front of a mirror and then graduate to doing it for family or friends. Ask them for their honest feedback—was it too fast or too slow? Did they feel connected with you and what you were saying? It is important to find the integrity in your speech, the bits that you can really connect with, and then slow down especially over these bits, because if you don’t believe it, no one else will!
When you get to the point of standing up in front of the audience, anchor your feet, let your shoulders be relaxed, and let the breath out. Find your communication pace, and don’t let the nerves speed you up. Then tell your story, without worrying about having to pretend to be a brilliant speaker. If you take the pressure off yourself, you will come across as more likeable, confident and, consequently, a better communicator.