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Why is public speaking so scary?

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking, and it is very common. In fact, more people count public speaking as their biggest fear than they do spiders, heights and even death! Communicating in public can make us feel nauseous, experience a tightness in our stomach, get sweaty palms and in extreme cases suffer panic attacks. Because of these horrible symptoms, glossophobics will go to huge lengths to avoid public speaking and this can have a negative impact on their careers, social engagements and personal lives.

So why is it so scary? Speaking in public, whether on a stage or in a meeting, can make us feel incredibly vulnerable and this is because it ignites in us our primitive fight or flight response. Adrenaline that would have fuelled us to run away from predators is triggered by the fears that we might have before a public engagement. Will people understand me? Will people judge me? Am I any good? Questions like these have the same effect as seeing a predator would have done thousands of years ago and this is why we can find public speaking so bl**dy scary. Fear of public speaking isn't just something that strikes shy people either, many actors, singers and politicians all struggle with it and there have been some very famous self-professed glossophobics including Nicole Kidman, Sigmund Freud and even Gandhi.

What can we do? Don't worry - there are lots of things that you can do to overcome your fear of public speaking. In fact, once you start practicing effective tools and techniques you can learn to harness that adrenaline and use it to power you, rather than send you running. I've outlined some tools and tips to get you started on your confidence journey below.

  1. Breathe. I know it sounds simple, but breath really is your powerhouse when it comes to communicating. Before your speaking engagement, work on focussing yourself. Find a quiet and calm place to lie down with your knees up. Place one hand on your diaphragm and breath slowly in through your nose for ten counts and out through your mouth for ten counts. Repeat. During your speech notice if you feel that you are speeding up, losing control and falling off your voice. If you are, take a moment. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out again. Repeat if necessary. Controlling your breathing will give you control over your voice, which in turn will give you presence and control of your audience.

  2. Know your space, and know your subject. This might sound obvious but the more times you have practiced what you are going to say, where you are going to say it, the easier it will be. Try practicing once a day for twenty minutes or so, preferably in the space you will be delivering. Try shouting parts of your speech, singing parts of your speech and noticing how your voice fills the room.

  3. Think like a performer. Before an actor goes on stage they will focus on what it is their character wants and where their character has been just prior to the scene. If you can focus on what it is you want your audience to feel after you have spoken you can distract yourself from fearful thoughts and transform them into positive ones.

  4. Warm-up. This can be as simple an exercise as doing some star-jumps to get your blood flowing and stretching out your body. Just as you wouldn't go on a run without warming up, you will find that you can communicate far better once your body is warmed up. Once you have warmed up your body, spend a few minutes doing some vocal warm ups such as tongues twisters, humming and tongue trilling. Try yawning with your mouth closed and exhaling through your nose to relax your throat.

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