Chat with the chief: Public freaking

Those who know me are well aware that I love to talk and I’m quite comfortable doing so. But sometimes, being asked to speak in front of an entire class is enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

I never really thought I would be bothered by public speaking in the slightest. I hope to be speaking in front of the entire nation as a news anchor one day, and the thought of that doesn’t freak me out one bit. I confidently lead staff meetings all the time, and I like to speak up and contribute thoughts in class. As a result, I’ve never categorized myself as someone with a fear of public speaking.

But lately, many of my classes have required presentations, and the thought of standing in front of a classroom and giving a ten minute speech makes me nauseous. On presentation day, my stomach will be in knots as I await for my name to be called. And after the deed is done, I sit at my desk and judge my own actions.

For days, I’ll think about the words that fell out of my mouth in front of my peers, and I’ll question everything I said. Did that make sense? Did I pronounce that word right? Was I entertaining? Can I just keep my mouth closed for the rest of my life?

It can be painful to speak in front of large, unfamiliar crowds. You don’t know your audience, so you won’t know how they will react to your content. Furthermore, unless it’s a class within one’s major where everyone is engaged in the topic, a significant amount of viewers likely do not care about the content and won’t even be listening, pressuring the speaker to try and be more entertaining.

These reasons and many more are why I’ve recently had issues speaking in front of my classmates. However, the National Social Anxiety Center confirms that I am not alone, as glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is the most common phobia experienced by many. About 73 percent of people have glossophobia and are affected by this fear regularly.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have this fear where it matters. I love meeting new people and talking to others in public. I could stand in the front of a room and talk all day about my chosen career field, or any issue or topic that I am passionate about. I’m never afraid to speak in a work environment in front of my coworkers.

When I encounter public speaking in real life, it’s a breeze. Issues arise when I’m given a topic – often the same topic as the rest of the class – and I’m forced to research and speak about something that I care little about.

Personally, I don’t know how much it actually helps students to make them speak publicly about just anything. Sure, it will help if they can choose their own topic, particularly one related to their field or their passions, but giving students a rigid topic that is irrelevant to them and making them discuss it for an extended period of time really doesn’t help anyone.

Don’t get me wrong: I think public speaking skills are really valuable in the workplace, and in life in general. However, I think there’s a way to assign presentations that won’t push anxious students over the edge and will benefit them in the long-run.

For starters, let them pick their own topic, or even their own subtopic within a broader assignment. When people are talking about their passions, they tend to be more confident and knowledgeable, performing at their full potential. Also, offer assistance to those with a fear of public speaking. Let them know that you understand and that you’re willing to help them get through it.

And for those who have glossophobia – whether you’re like me and it’s situational, or it affects you all the time – try and remember that so many people are also afraid of public speaking. I can also guarantee that your viewers aren’t judging you as harshly as you think they are.

Everyone in the class has to present, so you’re all in the same boat. Plus, the audience probably won’t remember the quality of your speaking for more than an hour afterwards. Think about it: of all the presentations you’ve seen, how many do you really remember? Chances are, of the ones you remember, you remember them because they were great, not because they were poor or mediocre.

The fear of public speaking affects more people than you may realize. Let’s adapt assigned speeches to strongly benefit the speaker, rather than causing them to panic and reap no benefits. And to the others who experience this dread with me, we will overcome this. You are not alone.