Fear of public speaking

Fear of public speaking; a personal experience

March 19, 2019

Public speaking, hated by many…around 25% of us in fact, definitely detested by me…and I had to do it.

A fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia (it’s cool, geeky name that no-one actually seems to use) is incredibly common. It almost always comes up if someone already struggles with anxiety, and pops up even when people don’t. The good news is that for most of us it’s not something we generally do all that often. It might be the odd school presentation, speaking in front of colleagues at work, or when you’re asked to give a speech at an important event – just like I was recently when I needed to give a speech at a close friends wedding. *Cue my anxiety*

My speech is now done and dusted (I choose to think I “nailed it”), but I was thinking in the lead up, and then reflecting when I sat down to write this blog…what helped me? There was NO denying I was incredibly nervous, but my fear of my face turning into a beetroot, mincing my words into a new and unintelligible language, and having a sea of faces stare at me with a stomach churning mix of pity and “please just stop talking” didn’t happen. Why not?!

Before I explore this with you, allow me a quick disclaimer of sorts. Some people suffer from a debilitating fear of public speaking, and while what I’m about to share might still be helpful, I’m aiming this at those of you who, like me, ​can do it…but often do it poorly, or feel as though we suffer through the whole thing.

Upon reflection, and in order to share my experience with you, I realised that my ‘speech making process’ could actually be broken down into three ‘parts’ on a timeline – writing my speech (there were more edits that I care to admit), the time in the lead up to delivering my speech, and the actual giving of the speech. So let’s have a quick look at each of these, and some of the things I did that you too, might find useful.

Firstly, the writing of the speech.

With regard to the actual construction of your speech, your sentences, whether you choose to be funny, serious, concise, conversational etc….I’m sorry, but I can’t help you there! But here are some points where I can:

– Write how you naturally speak. Not only will this make it easier for you to deliver, but it will sound more like ​you. It is therefore also far more likely to be a ​better speech than if you’re suddenly trying to be a comedian, and you’re naturally not.

– Practice! Rehearse what you’re going to deliver. Go over the actual words, and practice using your body in the same fashion you will at the time (ie. if you’ll be standing, stand, if you’ll be looking at different people or referencing things, practice doing this also).

– Acknowledge the anxiety you feel, and work at trying to accept that it’s there. Remember too, that it’s there for a reason – this occasion obviously holds some importance for you, so you care, and therefore it’s unlikely that you’ll be anxiety free as caring often tends to bring a little anxiety along for the ride.

The lead up to the speech.

I realised in the days, and more keenly, in the hours leading up to my speech that I had a choice…I could focus on how nervous I was, and keep listening to my anxious mind while replaying all the fears I had in my head (and tell every person who spoke to me how nervous I was), but what good was that going to do me? Was I going to decide not to do my speech? Uh, definitely not. Was it going to somehow make my speech better or my anxiety less? Again, no. So I made a conscious choice to once again acknowledge that those thoughts and fears were there, but to focus on ​why I was doing a speech in the first place. Not because I had to (no-one can actually force you), but because it had value to me, and because I wanted to be able to do that for my friend, and to share with everyone the important things I had to say.

– Put simply, stop repeating to yourself and everyone who will listen how nervous you are, and focus on why on earth you would put yourself in that position…focus on your reason to accept the anxiety and ​do it anyway!

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, DELIVERING the speech.

This is where those physical symptoms of anxiety tend to rear their ugly head. As the speeches before mine were delivered my anxiety grew (even though I was still using all the tips above). I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, my hands were shaking, and my breathing had become shallow and fast. What to do?

– As my turn started to roll around I made a very conscious effort to take deep, measured breaths and not exacerbate my already elevated heart rate. I also took some regular sips of water to ensure my mouth wasn’t super dry.

– Additionally, I took a quick moment to check my perspective and remind myself ​why I was doing this and what actually mattered to me the most. For me personally, I reminded myself that I knew most people in the room (so many would be empathetic regarding my evident anxiety), and those I didn’t know, well to be blunt, it’s unlikely I’d see them again, so how much did their opinion ​really matter.

– Lastly, in many ways I was speaking to my friend and her (now) husband. She wouldn’t care about my anxiety, and in fact, that she could see me make the effort to stand up in front of everyone in her life that mattered, knowing I was super anxious, could only be a good thing.

So on a final, honest note, let me share this last ‘reality check’ with you…..I, the psychologist and professional “anxiety manager” was ​anxious. I’m sure I looked down more than I would have liked, my hands were visibly shaking, I stumbled over a word here and there, and I think a few even got lost when I held the microphone too far from my face. But I did it…and that moment when you get through something that makes you​ that anxious, but is also so important, is incredibly rewarding and something I hope all of my clients, and all of you who read this, will be able to feel. It may even help propel you into your next public presentation.

If you feel you need some help with your anxiety or fear of public speaking, please contact us here to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists today.

Cara Crothers

Clinical Psychologist


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