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Fear of Public Speaking - Tips to Overcome it

Most people suffer from ‘Glossophobia’. It is not a disease but the technical term for ‘fear of public speaking’. This word is derived from Greek terms, ‘glossa’ (tongue), and ‘phobos’ (fear).

This fear resides in almost everyone either in a very visible state or in a hidden manner. Even the best speakers, sometimes, have apprehensions of addressing an audience, which could stem from being unsure about the topic or the audience itself.

Glossophobia is most pronounced amongst shy people. As they are introverts, they find it difficult to speak their views or address an audience in fear of being reprimanded or opposed to. Many have a fear that they will be ‘questioned’ on what they speak. Still others may become tongue-tied the moment they climb the podium.

Fear of public speaking is a hurdle to self-development and any progress in the corporate or social field. This fear makes people create a cocoon around themselves and they become highly insecure over a period of time.

It is essential to overcome this fear factor. This does not mean that every person must become a great orator, but to speak out in a group of people is essential for self-esteem.

This fear is not tackled overnight but has to be done at a snails pace - slow and steady, one step at a time. Glossophobia makes its appearance in childhood when school going children do not speak up in class. It is therefore essential to tackle this fear of speaking at an early age and slowly motivate the child to participate in class discussions. Nevertheless, this does not mean that glossophobia does not occur in adulthood. Due to a specific incident or accident, an adult, too, may develop apprehensions about speaking in public. However, ‘once a speaker, always a speaker’ holds good; and through self-discipline and motivation, the fear can be overcome.

Some simple tips that can be followed by all ages to overcome the fear of public speaking are:

  • Be confident - Body language and posture should indicate confidence. The audience loses interest the moment they realise that the speaker does not seem sure of himself. Every speaker should practice in front of a full-length mirror so that they are able to see their body language for themselves and improve on it.
  • Practise to be perfect - For speakers who are not natural orators, they must practise their speech in terms of vocabulary and voice modulation. With every practice, a dual purpose is served- (a) new inflections can be added to the speech (b) confidence in oneself increases as the speaker becomes more proficient with his dialogue.
  • Prepare your words - Being unprepared is like appearing for an exam without studying! All speakers, whether amateurs or professionals need to prepare their words. Such preparation makes a person confident about himself, which further reduces the fear factor.
  • Avoid learning by heart - ‘Learning by heart’ essentially means memorizing each word of the script. This method succeeds if the dialogue is short; but does not work for long speeches. If a few words are forgotten, it stumps the speaker who stops midway to remember the forgotten words. Instead, the key lies in learning the points and elaborating as you go along. This gives flexibility in modifying the choice of words.

For those who find it hard to self-motivate themselves, there are innumerable guidebooks available on public speaking. Alternatively, every city has several self-development classes that can be attended. These courses include a module on public speaking whereby through theory and practical sessions, participants are brought out of their shell and are encouraged to participate. Over time, with practice, glossophobia is overcome.