Glossophobia: The fear of public speaking
Speaking in front of people. What is it about speaking in front of people that is just so overwhelmingly horrendous sometimes? I’m still on my journey to finding out. However, I am much more carefree and comfortable now at speaking in front of a small or even big group of people. So, I thought it might be helpful to share my journey from being a shakey leaf, to a much less shakey leaf (hello 10/10 description).
Speaking in front of people has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but for a long time, it never seemed to get easier to cope with. Many of us have to speak publicly every day, primarily at school and work. It is often forced and labelled as character development, when sometimes all you want to do is stop the nervous sweats and dry throat and run away to a different country. Disclaimer: I am obviously not a professional and if you are severely affected by anxiety surrounding public speaking, please seek guidance if you are comfortable to do so.
My first recollection of public speaking dates back to starting school. Every single year it seemed to be tradition to introduce yourselves to your new classmates with your name and a fact about yourself. I remember sitting in my new class in year 5 and we had to say our name and describe ourselves with a word that started with the same letter as our first name. “My name is Emily and I’m energetic” is what 8 year old Emily pulled out of the bag. It makes me laugh because I now realise how much energy I’ve lost over the years. I just recall that pit-in-your-stomach feeling when it got closer and closer to your turn and you couldn’t quite focus on anyone else’s answers because you were so concerned about sounding calm and collected.
This feeling liked me. It latched onto me and followed me through my school years like my own hormone monster where the public speaking tasks became increasingly more daunting. Presentations. This word brings me horrible flashbacks to GCSE English where we were regularly set the task to present to the whole class. Just the sheer thought of talking by myself to a group of 20-30 people made me feel sick to my stomach and it would riddle me with worry until it was over. The thought of the looming presentation would linger in the back of my mind until it was ticked off of the list. Assemblies. In primary (lower) school, I used to find reading a line in front of the school and my mum in the audience quite exciting. That vanished in secondary (upper) school where we had tutor assemblies and would have to present to a collection of tired, bored and probably piss-taking 10-18 year olds.
However, when I started my sixth form (A Level) journey back in 2015, something clicked and I began to turn into a very laid back, almost horizontal person that just simply didn’t care. By the end of my final year in year 13, my friend and I taught a health and social class to a group of younger teens and I actually enjoyed it. I was purely shocked at my lack of nerves. Where had they gone? Am I a new woman?
I left school and went into full time work, where the compulsory introductions and team building exercises kept going. In group exercises, I became more chatty and less afraid to input my own ideas and opinions. Nowadays, I will happily talk in front of my whole team and sometimes up to 20 people at a time. Every Friday afternoon we have a team huddle and have “fun fact Friday”, whereby we pull a topic out of a tin penguin called Paul and we have to research something interesting to share with the group. It’s fun and engaging, especially for new starters. Sometimes I still find myself getting tummy knots when I know I need to share something. The prospect of beady eyes, clammy hands, a tripping tongue and mouth as dry as my calendar still fill me with a bit of dread. My throat has a habit of getting dry and closing up, meaning I have to keep clearing my throat before I speak, in fear of sounding like a 40 year old chain smoker.
So what have I done and what do I do to overcome my fear of public speaking?
- I woke up one day and stopped caring – Now this probably sounds like the most unhelpful, naive and pathetic tip of all time, but bare with me. Something clicked in me overnight and I woke up and just stopped allowing myself to see so much fear in certain things. I was being my own worst enemy, which leads onto my next point.
- Do your best not to be your own worst enemy – Picturing the worst case scenarios is not going to aid your performance. The demon sat on your shoulder will want you to underperform and stumble, but learning to take control of your thoughts are important. No matter how big or small your speaking task may be, try and stay focused and not let your mind stray to all the unfortunate possibilities that probably won’t even happen!
- Prepare – One method is to make sure you know what to say, regardless if this is a big presentation or inputting an idea into a conversation. It will offer you direction and guidance and give you a point to stick to. You could rehearse and make yourself as familiar with your own content as possible. This leaves less room for things to not go your way.
- You don’t have to suffer alone – This applies more to presentations, but if you are capable of asking for a partner to join you so you can tackle the task as a two, by all means please just ask. The class my friend and I presented was meant to be done on an individual basis, but neither of us felt that comfortable so asked our teacher to present together and he agreed. You never know unless you try.
- Take baby steps – The best things don’t happen overnight. It may take 1 or 2 public speaking tasks for the nerves to calm down, but it may take years of practice. Each time you partake in any form of public speaking, it’s kind of like the psychological therapy called flooding. As per the title, it literally means you are exposed to your worst fears in a (typically) safe and controlled environment in the hopes that the anxiety will eventually lessen. For some, this works wonders and for some it achieves nothing. Although, I think it’s important to be fully conscious of the fact that it won’t necessarily get easier after one try. Like climbing a ladder, take each step at a time till you’re comfortable with the height at the top.
- Celebrate your achievements and utilise them in the future – It is SO important to give yourself a well-earned pat on the back when it’s needed. I know personally that the relief after finishing a presentation was like the freshest breath of air I’ve ever had. If this feeling wasn’t carried forward, it would be such a shame. Fingers crossed your tasks become easier with time and before you know it you’ll sit back and realise you kicked the fear in the butt! Grow through what you go through and have faith in yourself that you can do it. I don’t want to be quaking making a speech at my friend’s wedding!
So there we have 6 ways I still incorporate into my life now to help eventually put a stop to my public speaking fear altogether. I don’t want my own anxieties to define me or hold me back, so I’ve tried to aid my own journey. When it comes down to it, no one can stop your fear other than yourself, and if you overcome it – that’s amazing! But if you don’t, good on you for trying and kudos for keeping going. I hope this post has at least helped one of you to know that the fear can be tamed. Thank you so much for reading.
Until next time,