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Getting Past Your Glossophobia

by Dorothy Leeds

Do you suffer from glossophobia? According to the book of lists, it is the foremost fear in the world today. It isn't bugs that we're afraid of most, or heights, or snakes, or even death. No, what the whole world is afraid of most is -- having to speak in public.

Isn't that what training is all about -- speaking in public? Whether you're making a presentation to a large corporate meeting or training one-to-one, you're still speaking in public. And you're probably suffering from glossophobia.

The word comes from the Greek, meaning tongue (glosso) and fear or dread (phobia). This is a fear that's taken its toll through the centuries. What are we so afraid of? What can one mere mortal in need of training, or a room full of people sitting quietly in their seats (presumably unarmed), do to you? More importantly, what can you do to fight against this common fear?

Making Fear Work for You
Fear is nature's way of helping you protect yourself. New or dangerous situations trigger the "fight or flight" response: Your pulse quickens, your muscles tense, and the resulting rush of adrenalin equips you for any extra effort you might need. Whether you face real or imaginary fear, physical danger, or emotional stress, the reaction is the same. And you can benefit: the adrenalin becomes energy; your mind seems more alert; new thoughts, facts and ideas arise. In fact, some of my most creative training techniques have come to me when I was facing the toughest challenges; it is yet another gift from the adrenalin.

Nervousness can give you the edge -- and the enthusiasm -- all good trainers need. But how can you draw the line between nervousness that boosts and fear that debilitates? By understanding and tackling the 3 fears shared by everyone who speaks in public:

  • Fear of presenting poorly
  • Fear of the 'audience'
  • Fear your information is not good enough

Fear of Presenting Poorly
You are not alone. Worrying about your performance comes with the territory. Actors and actresses, who perform in public all the time, still suffer this fear. Even after 50 years of acting, Helen Hayes worried she would forget her opening lines. Comedian Red Skelton was always a nervous wreck before performances.

The power of privacy. Making a presentation before a group may seem like the most public act possible, but you still have privacy on your side. You don't have to reveal your nervousness; you can keep it to yourself. If you act confident, you begin to feel that way, too. People rarely look very nervous, no matter how jittery they feel. Letting go of the fear means realizing it doesn't matter if you feel nervous; the client doesn't know how nervous you are and he won't be able to see or hear it either.

Tap into creative visualization. Expectations have a way of fulfilling themselves. If you assume your audience is going to be hostile, you'll adopt a defensive and abrupt manner. Instead, form a mental image of how you want to look or sound: creative visualization is a technique that works for many people. Close your eyes and remember the positive points from your last successful presentation. Imagine your trainee(s) as being friendly and accepting. Substitute that vision as the reality in your mind's eye and keep it there. Imagine a positive reaction and you're halfway to getting just that. Envision the role you want to play and act the part. We all have many sides to our characters; you want to show your confident side. It is there for you to tap.

Fear of the 'Audience'
Your audience (be it one or one hundred) is not out to get you. These people need your expertise (or you wouldn't be talking to them.) They want you to help them. The more confident you appear, the easier it is for them to relax and trust you.

Identify with your audience. One way to avoid the me-versus-them trap is to think about your trainees instead of yourself. The more you know about your listeners, the more you'll see them as friends and the less nervous you'll be.

Communicate your enthusiasm and excitement. What you have to say is well worth your time and theirs. Your enthusiasm and excitement are contagious -- your audience can't help but catch it. And concentrating on the task at hand gets you thinking more about it than about yourself -- the perfect antidote to fear.

Fear that Your Information is Not Good Enough
Whether you're just starting out on your first presentation, or you're an experienced trainer with a new client -- there's always the fear that you don't have enough information. This is the easiest fear to overcome, because you are in control of your preparation.

Do your homework. Research. Prepare. The more homework you do, the more you'll know about your clients, and the more you'll know that you have the information you need.

Practice makes perfect. Change is always a bit frightening. But don't let fear keep you from trying something new to improve your presentations. Practice your presentations at home or role-play with friends or family.

Mind Over Matter
Fear may not be welcome, but it is normal. Every successful trainer has his or her own tricks to psych out fear. The point is, even though your mind seems to work overtime before a presentation, filling you with dread, you can counter with tricks of the imagination that make you feel confident and in control. Keep working at it -- the more you do, the better you become. You may still have glossophobia, but you'll also be a better trainer.

Keys to Breaking the Fear Barrier

  • Admit your fear; understand its sources.
  • Tap the energy that fear produces.
  • Recognize that fear is normal for everyone.
  • Realize your fear doesn't have to show.
  • Visualize yourself as a confident, successful person.
  • See your trainees as your allies; focus on their needs
  • Combine preparation with practice.
  • Devise tricks to psych out your fear.
  • Think positively about yourself.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
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