Friday, March 22, 2013

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking, is a condition that effects as much as 75% of people. During a flare-up, symptoms may include sweaty palms, shortened breath, heightened blood pressure, nausea, stiffening of neck and upper back muscles, dry mouth, and a distinct desire to flee the premises. Fortunately, a number of organizations exist to help victims overcome this affliction.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit working in 116 countries to help its 280,000 members become better public speakers through peer workshops, communications-based assignments, and competitions. Each year, the competitions – which involve 30,000 competitors worldwide - culminate in a World Championship of Public Speaking to determine the world’s #1 public speaker. This summer, THNKR had the pleasure of attending the championship in Orlando, Florida. Afterwards, we talked with Dr. Nick Morgan, one of America’s most prominent communication theorists and coaches, about the experience, and the important things to remember as you prepare for a big speech.

Nerves Are Natural

“It should be good news to speakers everywhere at every level that even the best of the best get nervous,” Morgan says. In fact, he argues, that’s exactly what makes it possible for a person to give an inspired and unforgettable speech. “The smart ones,” says Morgan, “use those nerves as welcome signs of what they actually are – adrenaline – because they know they need that adrenaline to do their best.” This fight-or-flight response, often referred to as an “adrenaline rush,” is caused by a stress signal sent from the brain to the adrenal gland. The hormone released, called epinephrine, speeds up the rate of respiration, thus quickening blood flow to the muscles, increasing oxygen to the lungs, and giving the body a surge of temporary energy. While some people may feel overwhelmed by this burst of energy and the heightened awareness that comes with it, it can also be harnessed to give speakers just what they need to ace a speech. “There’s moments when you’re nervous and you’re fearful—” says Andrew Kneebone, one of the nine finalists at this year’s championship, “—well, that’s a friend now, not a stranger.” Nerves are natural – and can work in your favor. So embrace your nerves, and allow them to fuel the energy that will make your speech come alive for your audience in an authentic way.

Be Authentic