I was browsing through Facebook last week when a joke (quoted from a comedian) really scored a homerun with me. And it goes like this:


“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Besides earning a “Like” from me for its witty metaphorical context, a series of question was inspired from this morbid humour. Fear of public speaking.. Really? Even coming on top of our inevitable march to eternal rest? Weird.

As a relatively outspoken guy with my ideas, thought-processes and opinions, this is relatively foreign to me. I’ll be honest to say that occasionally, I do get the jitters and racing heartbeat from public speaking. But it goes away shortly once I’ve acclimatized to the audience and my surroundings.

In retrospect, i realize that the fear of  public speaking is prevalent after attending a business validation course earlier in the week. On the topic “Personal Branding” and “Thought-Leadership”, the trainer made every participant pitch about themselves in front of the class. Participants were entrepreneurs of different industry and age profile. And the class size was approximately 20 pax. Almost no preparation time was given to simulate the readiness to present their business whenever its required.

The result? Although as entrepreneurs, a good 60% in the class showed symptoms of anxiety and awkwardness when presenting. It is as though they got hit by a mini panic attack when their names are called to the “stage”.

The Culprit

Glossophobia – The fear of public speaking.

Symptoms of Glossophobia includes:

  • Profuse sweating (Feet, forehead and palms)
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Quavering voice
  • Dry mouth
  • Churning in the stomach
  • Hearing loss
  • Trembling physically
  • Nausea
  • Tensed muscles (neck and upper back)
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sudden weakness of the body
  • Vocalised pauses (“erm” and “uh”)
  • Urge to use the bathroom

Implications of Glossophobia

Career Life

In your career, many activities will involve some form of public speaking or communicating to groups of people. From team meetings and client presentations to job interviews to running your own business, speaking confidently and conveying your message across effectively is a vital skill if you gunning for success. One could potentially lose out  to opportunities to his/her colleagues and peers if speech anxiety takes control of one’s life. Are you a victim of glossophobia at your workplace? Think about it.

Personal Life

The confidence developed from public speaking can tremendously support your personal life. By being able to communicate effectively, one can build stronger bonds and relationship with others. Furthermore, socializing in a new environment will be much easier, and as a result making new friends quickly. Glossophobia may hence impede this ability to network with others.

Glossophobia is an astonishingly common fear that affects as high as 75% of the population according to experts’ estimation. Even seasoned speakers do experience some of the above symptoms before their speech. So don’t for once feel embarrassed if you are part of the statistic. Unless it is a severe case, good news is glossophobia can be managed and controlled by learning simple techniques.

  1. Recognition

First and foremost, to tame your nerves, recognize and acknowledge your fears. It is perfectly acceptable to understand and embrace this ingrained trait in human-beings. During the primal age, our ancestors needed this ability to survive by quickly recognizing and sensing if they are accepted in a social group. As a result, this naturally forms a fight or flight response when one is socializing in a group setting. Successful public speakers learn to control their fear, and not eliminate it. Even legendary investor, Warren Buffet (Net worth of 85B at 2018), suffers from glossophobia even in his adulthood. On an interview for essential skills to cultivate in your 20s and 30s, Buffett answered,

“ You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

Ultimately, he overcame his fear of public speaking by sharing his knowledge on investment principles to others twice his age. He actively seeks opportunity to socialise with others as well.

  1. Practice

Athletes practiced their moves constantly to not only perfecting them, but also to tame their nerves during their games. Just imagine in the NBA where hundreds of thousands of spectators are watching them, live or on telecast, executing their moves. It is probably the most nerve-racking situation that they can find themselves in. However, NBA players easily make high scoring percentage dunks and 3-point shots. Seems easy, yes? Absolutely not. They have practiced their execution thousands of time until they can rely on their muscle memory to manage their nerves.

It’s the same logic to public speaking. The more you speak the more comfortable you’ll be. And speaking confidently to anyone and any setting will almost be second-nature once you become adept at it.  

The motto here is: Do what you fear, and do it alot.

  1. Stop Overthinking!

Let me put it upfront that the following have got NOTHING to do with you:

  • Someone in the audience yawning or using their phone.
  • People leaving from your presentation.
  • Constant questions posted by your audience.
  • Negative comments or labelling.

Everyone has got their own agenda and interpretation of information. Some are distracted by random things or are simply tired. As a result, prescribe those actions. Therefore your job is to concentrate on your presentation and your speech to engage the active listeners. Generally, an audience will focus on the content of presentation rather than how it is presented. Chances are they wouldn’t even noticed your fears.

Remember, one of the most common antidote when a panic attack strikes is to – Breathe.

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