Getting off controversial topics for awhile, I was reminded on the weekend about one woman I’ve worked with in the past who is enjoying an excellent career but is desperately afraid of public speaking. And there’s even a word for it: Glossophobia.
Unfortunately these days, if you want a career that progresses into senior management you’ll have to get good at this, no matter how distasteful it is.
There’s lots and lots of stuff on the web on why this occurs: fear of failure, inability to be vulnerable, self-doubt. I was even reading an archaeological perspective on the subject wherein people are afraid to rise up in a tribe for fear of being kicked out and thus not being defended and ending up being eaten by sabre toothed tigers.
The thing to remember is, no one is thinking about you anyway. They’re all too busy thinking about themselves to waste time thinking about you. If you don’t believe me, wait 30 days after you’ve done a presentation and ask anyone there what they thought of your presentation.
Chances are, unless it was the worst one they’ve ever seen or the best, they won’t remember a thing you said or how you said it. But if they happened to ask a question at your presentation, they’ll remember what the question was, how smart it made them sound, and how everyone was in awe of their brilliance.
So stop worrying about public speaking. There are no sabre-toothed tigers anymore, even if some of your co-workers look like they are ready to tear you limb from limb.
I worked with a Clown (believe it or not, a highly respected profession in the Performing Arts world) who ripped apart the other attendees of the workshop – some to the point of tears.
The purpose of the exercise was to expose and exploit the vulnerabilities of the presenter – the most confident and poised of whom were the ones driven to tears. It is this method that prepares the public speaker to convey the idea, handle distractions, and command the attention of the room by broadcasting their content in a manner that is an honest representation of the speaker (not a false projection – which the audience will see right through).
For those who are not natural public speakers – do not fear. Your jittery hands or shaky voice does not indicate that you are a bad public speaker, just that you share the same vulnerabilities of the majority of people who are just as terrified of publicly presenting as you are. Your audience will endear and relate to you, and support you – willing you on to your next idea and respecting you because they know that public speaking is an enormous challenge for some.
The public speaker, full of well-rehearsed confidence, who talks ‘at’ his audience inevitably loses them. The audience will lose respect for this speaker, nods along and feigns attentiveness while their internal dialogue recaps last night’s episode of ‘The Bachelorette,’ or reminds themselves to pick up milk on the way home.
To avoid assuming an “easier said than done” air, there is one absolute truth: Glossophobia is as genuine a phobia as they come – nothing irrational about it at all! I advise anyone with this condition to seek out a workshop, as no amount of rehearsal in the mirror can prepare you for getting in front of a group. You will certainly find that an audience full of Glossophobiacs is an ideal test audience, and getting started is the hardest part. With practice, anyone can learn the ability to “own the room.”
But beware of the day you no longer fear getting in front of the group. This means you have lost your edge, and you have less respect for the intelligence of your audience. The audience needs to see that you are a little bit nervous in order to fully endear.
Think about how terrible some of the speeches and speakers have been at seminars you’ve attended. You still listened, gave the speaker your attention, and avoided a condemning judgement of said speaker. So go ahead and really stink up a room with your horrible speech – I promise you that you will only get better with each occasion. Like Charles said, no one really cares!