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August 17, 2015

By: Ben Travis

If you get all jittery every time you’re asked to present in front of an audience, whether it’s for a small panel in the board room or a multitude of people in an auditorium, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Accordingly, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety – or Glossophobia as the scientific world refers to it. It might also interest you to know that people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying. As Jerry Seinfeld puts it, if four people attended a funeral, three of them would rather be lying in the coffin than in the podium giving the eulogy. So, why are people so afraid of speaking in front of others? The reasons can vary widely, and can be as unique as the individual, but to sum it up, you can see that all these reasons have one connecting thread – their mindset.


Fear of Failing

Nobody wants to look like a loser, especially in front of a crowd. This brings about the person’s need to impress their audience, and when they start thinking that they won’t be able to achieve that, they start feeling nervous. They fear that they may disappoint their audience with their speech or presentation. There are also people who, at the moment they set foot on the stage and open their mouths, start to see their audience as a bunch of grinning mischiefs who are waiting for the speaker to make a blunder – whether it is pronouncing a word incorrectly, stuttering in the middle of a sentence, or the audio-visual failing. These speakers actually feel that their audience ‘wants’ them to fail.

Think about the last time you attended a speaking event. As an attendee, have you ever wished that a speaker would fail? Probably not – your time is valuable, and it would be a waste of time to see a speaker flounder. The audience wants to get real value from a talk and wants to see the speaker succeed. That said, even failure is worse than not trying at all. As Richard Yates once said:

“If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail... it takes backbone to lead the life you want.”

Fear of Being Judged

Some speakers become nervous not because of failing but because of being judged. When it comes to speaking engagements, speakers have a set topic, and it’s up to them to craft a solid presentation around it. One problem is that speakers often worry too much about what the audience will think of their speech – the content as well as the way they present it. They worry that the audience will not agree with what they are saying, or that the audience will start questioning the validity of the information they are presented (something that a person speaking to a group of professionals and industry leaders often feel).

However, a higher diversity of ideas and viewpoints correlates to better performance in all fields. A speaker’s job isn’t to parrot others but rather to present beneficial, thought-provoking information to a targeted audience.

Lack of Self-Confidence

Another common cause of speech anxiety would be the lack of self-confidence. When speakers are unsure of themselves and their presentation, it’s natural to start worrying and push sweat glands into overdrive. The lack of self-confidence can be brought about by a number of factors including poor preparation and inexperience.

How can speakers combat this? Rehearse presentations. Speech is generally more transient and casual than written word. Practicing a presentation in front of peers, family, or even a pet can drastically improve its quality and receive valuable speaking feedback.

Conclusion

There are of course countless other reasons why people get nervous when speaking in front of others, but the ones mentioned above seem to be the most prevalent among people suffering from Glossophobia. The levels at which people experience this issue may be mild or extreme, but no matter what the level, they should strive to work on it if they aim to become a better public speaker.

While there are many reasons public speaking can cause anxiety, there are just as many ways (if not more) to improve public speaking skills. In addition to finding speaking opportunities and asking for feedback via SpeakerRate, here are a few great resources to level up:

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