Okay, so we’ve probably all been there – maybe a student presentation in a crowded room, all eyes on you, heart racing, hands shaking, palms sweating, mouth trembling, voice quivering… what is that fear all about and how can we overcome it?
Generally it’s known as public speaking anxiety, or the special name for it is glossophobia. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those people who can’t stand speaking in front of a crowd or group, or the thought of speaking in front of an audience causes you fear and anxiety, you’re not alone! It’s actually a very common fear so don’t be so hard on yourself.
Recently at uni, my class were given a small group activity and the tutor asked each group to present their findings. My group did some research, interacted well, brought good ideas to the table, but then it was time to do a short presentation and… what do you think happened? That’s right, nobody wanted to speak! Eventually my group resolved our situation but my point is this: the way we see ourselves as public speakers really matters!
When I think of myself as a public speaker, the fear sets in when I begin to compare myself to other people who make it look so easy, or when I doubt my ability to engage an audience, or when I’m not confident with the topic, or I think about how I look (e.g. friendly, intimidating, nervous etc) and I wonder whether what I’m saying actually makes sense!
In public speaking situations, we students do all sorts of things to control our fears don’t we? What do you do?
Do you pretend you have a dry or sore throat? Keep drinking water? Play with a pen or snap elastic bands on your wrist? Avoid eye contact with the audience? Tell yourself it will be over soon? Rock backwards and forwards or swing from side to side in your chair? Or just let someone else do the talking?
I’ll be honest, I think I’ve done most, if not all, of these things because I’m not comfortable facing audiences. I’m one of those people who would prefer to avoid situations where public speaking is necessary, but in my line of work, I have to find ways to overcome my public speaking anxiety.
Being able to present information clearly is actually a key skill and one that could be beneficial in your career, so if it’s a skill that you don’t have right now, aim to work on it.
I’m better in smaller groups and I don’t know about you but that seems like a reasonable place to start overcoming your fear of public speaking. If you practise mastering the art of ‘public speaking’ with people you feel comfortable with, you can build from there. There are available apps and games that you could play that will build your confidence in crowds too.
I’ve done this so many times and failed terribly – memorising a script! It’s a no-no for me. The better you know your topic, the more comfortable you’ll be presenting it.
When you know it’s your turn, do your legs shake too? Breathe and think of the outcome as positive, then it will come across as positive.
If you’re going off track, involve your audience – ask questions and encourage audience participation to ease your public speaking fears.
Just a few pointers – easier said than done, right?! Give yourself time to get better.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.