Even if you’ve never heard of Glossophobia, you might well have it. The fear of presenting, be that in front of an audience, in group meetings or even just talking in group situations is one of the most common fears known, stemming from our common concerns about people judging us. This might be a longstanding fear from school days - concerns about presenting coursework, for example, or other kids reacting cruelly to your comments in class, and might spill over into work as a fear of speaking in a group environment, even doing the usual rounds of introductions in meetings, as well as a fear of presenting formally to an audience.
This fear might show with physical symptoms such as feeling shaky or blushing when called upon to speak, and a common reaction is to rush through any necessary public speaking, failing to make eye contact and generally focusing on how you are feeling rather than what you’re supposed to be saying. Sadly, this can cause a negative spiral, which can result in people actively changing behaviour, avoiding tasks or jobs requiring public speaking, or even persistently turning up late to avoid the inevitable ’round the table’ introductions (with an interesting fact about yourself) at a group meeting.
If you’re concerned about speaking in public, or want to build your confidence, here are some areas to consider.
Prior to any public speaking, some preparation can help smooth out your nerves and put you on the path to success. Try to take control of your physical reaction to nerves, think about how you tend to react to these situations, perhaps with increased tension or blushing. To feel more in control of this, try to relax in the run up to your speech, do breathing exercises, yoga or meditation. The calmer you feel, the better you will be able to focus on the task in hand.
Channel the emotion you feel into positive strategies for preparation. Practise....even to the point you’re sick of your speech, visualise the meeting, and who will be there, the room lay out. Take some time to think of comments, questions or challenges that may be raised, and how to respond; mulling over these possibilities prior to the event makes it less likely you’ll freeze when asked a question.
If you’re able to, look at the room in which you are to speak, where is the lectern, and where will the audience be? Is the layout conducive to you moving around during your speech, or will you be standing still? Practise your speech with consideration to these elements - don’t include hand gestures to communicate your meaning if you will be blocked from view by a lectern, for example, and don’t practise stood still if you will have a mic and be expected to walk amongst the audience.
Sleep well immediately before the event, relax, and don’t get too pumped on caffeine or use booze to dull the night-before nerves.
When you are practising your speech for the final few times, try using a visual and physical signal you will remember during the speech. Use a physical movement such as a small stamp of your foot, which you use when practising to signal to yourself that you’re about to commence your speech - when you’re ready to start on the day, make the same physical movement to ’switch on’ your brain, and give you back the clarity you had during practise. Also try having a visual mark, a dot or a cross on your notes, and if things start to get hard, take a second to focus on the mark on the notes and clear your mind momentarily. Practise this technique before the event and this will help your thoughts come back on track in the moment.
Once you are underway, don’t worry about meeting your audience’s eyes initially, look round at everyone generally to calm your nerves at first, before starting to make more positive eye contact with individuals for a few seconds at a time. Start your talk loud - possibly louder than you feel is necessary - and have the first few sentences very, very clear in your mind. Go slower than you think you need, and concentrate on the message you are giving, not how you feel - after all, people have come to listen to what you have to say.
Invest some time to reflect after difficult experiences - what was good, what was hard, at what point did you feel in control and when did that slip away. Don’t let a negative spiral take over how you think about presenting, even if things do not go too well. Write down and focus on the positives of your talk - don’t focus on mistakes, even if you’re inclined to do so - others are likely to have forgotten them already.
If you’re still nervous, you may consider getting some professional training to hone your skills and channel your emotions in the right way to help you present in future. Many larger companies offer in house presentation training, or may consider funding or part funding one of the readily available courses for professionals building on their presentation experiences.
However you choose to tackle your concerns, don’t forget that even the most experienced public speakers have nerves - as Mark Twain said, "There are only two types of speakers, those who have nerves and those who are liars"- and this shouldn’t be something that holds you back from succeeding on your chosen path.