If you’re in the 7% of Americans who have an actual phobia of public speaking, you experience a physical and mental reaction akin to fight or flight, leading to measurable, negative consequences in your life. Somewhere around 27 million Americans experience glossophobia or a diagnosed phobia of public speaking.
For the rest of us (all but maybe 10 percent of the population who enjoy public speaking), we experience anxiety, though it doesn’t equate to a disorder.
Ten years ago, I counted myself in “the rest of us.” When I was FORCED (because I never volunteered) to public speak, I would sweat and get stomach cramps, a racing heart, shaky hands and legs, a quivering voice, elevated body temperature, blushing, and a disrupted ability to think.
My fear was not unique. Stats say public speaking ranks FIRST in America’s top five fears, followed in order by death, spiders, the dark, and heights. In other words, some of us would rather die, get bit by a giant spider, sit alone in the pitch black woods, or stand on the ledge of a tall building than speak in front of a crowd.
Today, I LOVE public speaking. It contributes to career progression, higher income, board and committee memberships, and professional credibility. I motivate team members to translate vision into practical operations by communicating powerfully. I build and deliver the case for a new budget line or an innovative new program without fear. I influence organizational behavior toward achievement of strategic goals by inspiring groups. Not to mention, I position myself as an expert.
Shedding my fear also helped me be a better mom, friend, and human being. Isolation is a key factor limiting personal and spiritual growth. By getting comfortable talking in groups and being vulnerable, I could take on some of my self-limiting behavior. I joined a community-based group and at first, was terrified to talk in front of them. As I overcame that fear, I grew personally and my relationships blossomed.
Often, I speak to college-aged students and, much like me at that age, they sit in silence when there's an opportunity for group discussion. Maybe one or two students will engage the conversation. Matching the statistics, they are the 10 percent. The others say nothing, missing out on wonderful opportunities to develop themselves and network with an industry connection.
Today, I speak all over the country, but how did I make the transition from visibly frightened to confident and competent?
Practice, practice, practice. You have to do it to demystify it. As uncomfortable as it is, push yourself to engage in public speaking opportunities. Start where you feel safe and work your way into new and expanding groups. It won't feel good overnight, so don't give up. Keep at it for a year and you'll be amazed at the transformation.
Forgive your flaws. Slips ups, forgotten words, shaky hands and blushing are NORMAL. Don’t let imperfection stop you in your tracks. I give powerful keynotes flawlessly but even after years of practice, I still get hit with the occasional anxiety. If I have a bad day speaking, I brush it off and move forward. Perfectionism will get me nowhere.
Study. My first year public speaking I felt like I was going to throw up every time. I needed help! I’ll never forget finding the book The Breakout Principle at the public library. It offered simple tactics to distract my mind from anxiety right before speaking. It worked! We spends thousands on a college education. Why not invest in some resources today to make yourself more competitive?
Start with a script. In the early days, I would get so lost in my head, I HAD to script out my speech. Sometimes I read it word for word. So what? I had to go through that phase. Eventually, I only referred to it to stay on track. Later, I moved toward note cards and sometimes today I use no script at all. This is a process. We will not be a pro on day one or even in year three. Allow yourself to evolve.
Get a mentor! While at an author’s conference in Nashville, TN, Anne Freedman, CEO of Speakout, Inc. and author of Public Speaking for the Genius, blew my mind with her presentation on how to be a better speaker. I furiously took notes. I stayed in touch with Anne. A couple years later I was helping manage a conference and suggested Anne as our keynote. We hired her and I took advantage of the opportunity to visit with Anne and talk more. I was offering a breakout session so I invited Anne and asked her to critique me. She did, and again, I found myself growing immeasurably. Professional athletes get better with the help of coaches who watch, video, and analyze their game. We can do the same!
At the end of the day, if you can develop this skill you will be in the ten percent. Want to set yourself apart, grow as a person, and blast past your work and life goals? Take on public speaking. The rewards are well worth the effort.