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What's so scary?

I would like you to try a little experiment for me: imagine that you stand on a very tall building's ledge and look around. Look down. How does it feel? Is it a little scary? Terrifying?

Imagine that you might fall any second. A sudden gust of wind might push you off, sending you tumbling down.

Do you panic? Does your stomach feel a bit too light and strange? Do your hands shake and sweat? Are you looking down, or trying not to?

Or maybe it feels perfectly comfortable.

Those feelings of panic, those nervous habits... That's how I feel when I think about doing any kind of public speaking.

My parachute jump

I've done this

I gave a lightning talk about my fear of speaking recently, and jumping from a plane, 12,000 ft up (although obviously, with an attached parachute and a guy who knew what he was doing) was less scary.

Glossophobia

the fear of public speaking. The word glossophobia comes from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread.

(Borrowed from http://www.glossophobia.com)

For some people, myself included, public speaking triggers very intense feelings of anxiety. It can affect anyone, from famous people like singers or actors, to pilots, teachers or even someone giving a speech at a wedding or a funeral.

In fact, there is a really well known person, who suffers from this...

Prince Harry

You can watch a very short video of Prince Harry talking about his fear of public speaking. You might think that someone that well known or famous would be used to public speaking. They have to address millions of people on an almost daily basis. But it's not always that easy.

Some surveys even say that some people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Remember the parachute jump?

Let's not focus on the negatives though.

You might well ask yourself - what can I do about it?

This is just a few of the things that I've found useful, and I hope you find them useful too, regardless of what situations you find scary. If you need more advice, I recommend visiting CalmClinic's website.

Try not to worry about being judged

I often find that I fret about doing something wrong or saying the wrong thing, and that in itself is scary. But the audience is on your side. They wouldn't have come to the talk if they assumed that it was not going to be - at the very least - not bad.

There is an interesting technique you can try, called visualisation. It basically means that once you know your material very well, and then practice, you imagine a hostile audience first, then practice again, but imagine that the audience is really nice and try to calm yourself down and continue doing this until you feel fine. I tried it out, but I think because I was so stressed out about it anyway it didn't really work and I gave up in the end. I will try it again for any future talks though.

Be confident and speak up

As a very quiet person, I am used to not being heard or speaking so quietly that often no one even hears me. Well, there's probably not much I can change about my voice, but I can at least speak clearly to make sure that people understand me. As English is not my first language, sometimes I am misunderstood or say something silly, but really, a small mistake here or there doesn't matter that much, as long as I am able to put my points across.

Don't be afraid to fail

I am often afraid that something will go really wrong with my presentation. Yes, it's possible, although if I prepare for it and something does go wrong, I will most likely be able to recover from it. Even if I lose my speaker notes or my slides won't work, I will be able to still talk about the topic. I recommend practicing the talk until you're fed up and then practicing more. This is to gain more confidence and perhaps to gradually reduce the stress associated with presenting. I actually had no access to my notes when I gave my talk. I practiced without them, so it wasn't a massive problem. If the topic was more technical though, I would have considered small paper notes to help me remember all the detail.

Be calm if you forget something

As scary as it sounds, no one (apart from yourself) will even notice. And everyone forgets things. That's just normal. Again, practice will help here. And notes, if you have them.

Prepare to be speechless

This one scares me the most. Especially, as under stress, we tend to think less rationally and often our minds go blank. It might be inevitable. But don't despair - there is something you can do about it.

Break the silence. It doesn't matter what you say. By starting to talk, you have already broken the awkward silence (well, actually if you start speaking again quick enough, the silence won't have the time to become awkward at all!) This actually happened to me during my first talk. I had a moment of panic, where I forgot what I should say next.

It was at that time that someone distracted me. Typically, I would just become quiet and not know what to say next, but instead I made a comment about the distraction and broke the silence. Nothing bad happened and I was able to continue normally.

Yoda - 'You must unfear what you have feared'

Listen to the wise man's words. Well, technically, he said "You must unlearn what you have learned".

Do it again

One last tip that really made a difference for me was: do it again! Ok, so my first talk made me extremely stressed out. I thought I might never want to do it again. But also, I kind of knew that if I gave up then, it would be so much harder to ever give any other talk ever again.

It was overwhelming and nerve-wracking the first time, and I didn't enjoy one bit of it. But, I got some really kind, positive comments about it and there were people who missed it and were interested in hearing it. Also, a lot of people surprised me by mentioning they faced similar difficulties. I always thought that because I was the quietest person in the office, I was the only person who didn't really enjoy public speaking. Nothing was further from the truth.

So I spent a few days absolutely hating it, but eventually gave the talk again. To make the environment a little less stressful, I asked for a meeting room as opposed to the open plan office area. I was a little conscious that a meeting room might give it a little more formal feel than I wanted, but I did it nevertheless.

And this time, people were a lot more open, and did interrupt a few times. I couldn't even start once I had my first slide up on the screen, because people started talking about their fear of heights and so on. This, in turn, made the atmosphere a lot more relaxed and more like a chat. As a result, I was less afraid of people asking questions at the end.

Was it worth it?

I can't emphasise enough that the effort was well worth it. For the last 8 years, I got away with presenting twice (and one of those was a group presentation). I think that I always exaggerated how bad it could go. But I also underestimated how stressful it could be. Maybe it's just the first few that will be so difficult, or maybe I will never be able to feel comfortable presenting to people, but now I know I can do it and that I will do it again.

To sum it up: Try, don't give up and all will be well!

And as for me... Well...

I'll be back