9.16.2008

Gab bag

Got fear? Odds are, if someone wants you to make a little speech, you're feeling anxious and afraid.

Fear of public speaking is the most common social phobia, experts say, affecting 75 percent of the population. More people fear public speaking than fear spiders, snakes, scorpions, toddlers, you name it. Some people are so afraid of speaking in public that they get actual physical symptoms, such as nausea, stuttering or trouser dampness.

There's a name for this fear: Glossophobia. You'd think fear of public speaking would be Podiaphobia or something melodic like that, but no, it's glossophobia, from the Greek "glosso," meaning tongue, and "phobia," meaning fear. Fear of tongue! Those wacky, fun-loving Greeks!

I give a lot of speeches in my job. Fortunately, I'm one of the lucky 25 percent of Americans who do not fear speaking in public. I'm afraid of everything else, but not public speaking. In fact, I'm so comfortable at a podium that I've been diagnosed with Hypo-Anxiety Modality, or HAM, which means that, once I start talking, the only way to shut me up is to send everyone home and turn off the lights.

But I recognize that not everyone is lucky enough to be a HAM. Nervous public speakers find that any kind of talk, from a short presentation at work to a commencement address to an extended eulogy, can be cause for alarm. For you glossophobics out there, we offer the following tips:

DO be prepared. Write out your speech ahead of time rather than trying to "wing it." Last time we looked, you had no wings. A little rehearsal never killed anybody.

DON'T read directly from the written speech the whole time. Look up occasionally. Try to act as if you're talking to a friend rather than droning on from some printed document.

DO speak slowly and clearly. You are not an auctioneer.

DON'T speak so slowly that you hypnotize the audience.

DO make gestures for emphasis and to keep the crowd's attention, but keep the gestures subtle and gentle. Jerky, broad movements make people think of Hitler.

DON'T wink and give a "thumbs up." Former President Clinton ruined that one for everybody.

DO pause for effect. Also, if you're lucky enough to get applause or laughter, give it time to run its course. Don't talk all over applause; it makes the audience unwilling to offer any more.

DON'T pause in expectation of applause. The audience will let you know when. If you look around for someone to start clapping and no one does, you will embarrass yourself and others, and you might actually melt into the floor.

DO find a friendly face in the audience. Tell yourself you're talking to that one person, not a multitude.

DON'T, however, stare at that person the whole time. Staring gives people the creeps, and may cause the recipient to run screaming from the room.

DON'T picture the audience members in their underwear. This feat of imagination is often recommended to anxious speakers as a way to help them relax, a reminder that the audience members put their boxers on one leg at a time, too. But this doesn't work unless the audience is extremely attractive. In most cases, picturing the audience in its underwear will produce giggling or mild nausea.

The main thing to remember is that, in most cases, the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed in your presentation. They want to be entertained and informed. They're there because they're interested in what you have to say.

So relax. Probably very few, if any, audience members are picturing you in your underwear. Really.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Good advice. I don't have trouble speaking either--as long as I know what I'm talking about, since it's usually about one of my books, it's easy for me. I just consider everyone in the audience a friend or potential friend.

We drove through Redding Saturday and I thought about you. We had fun talking to you on a plane coming back from one of the mystery cons.

Marilyn