Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

Amrita Dey, AP English III student, gave her speech and presentation on Friday, December 16. She spoke to her classmates about her interpretation and research on religion.

As students begin to take harder classes throughout their high school career, they are faced with bigger expectations from teachers. This is includes having to present speeches and presentations in front of their classmates. While to some this might not sound like a big deal, many students sweat at the thought alone.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a common phobia among teens. The idea that one must stand alone in front of an entire class and speak about his/her individual work is terrifying. Actually 74% of people report feelings of anxiety resulting from public speaking according to Statistic Brain. This anxiety stems from 10 motives: one being self-conscious in front of large groups, fear of appearing nervous, concern of audience judgement, past failures, poor or insufficient preparation, narcissism, dissatisfaction with one’s abilities, discomfort with one’s body and movement, poor breathing habits, and comparing oneself to others (The Genard Method).

Because of these 10 circumstances, it prohibits one from being confident and therefore hate public speaking.

In most cases, situations involving public speaking are done on a professional level. Whether it is relaying new information, telling a story, or making a call to action, Mrs. Yvonne Anderson, AP English 3 teacher, holds her students to high standards.

Corresponding to their specific topics, each student is asked to prepare their speeches in a way that persuades the audience to agree with the presenters point of view on the subject. This utilizes the community of the classroom to come to one agreement. Some of the most famous public speeches recognized today are: “Apology” from Socrates, “Give me liberty or give me death” from Patrick Henry, “The hypocrisy of American Slavery” from Frederick Douglass, “I have a dream” from Martin Luther King Jr., and “The Gettysburg Address” from Abraham Lincoln. All of these speeches were given in front of hundreds to thousands of people. While Mrs. Anderson’s students are presenting to 30 peers, this still is the largest audience for many of the speakers.

Technically, to be considered a public speech, there must be at least one person listening. Presenting to one person is how almost everyone practices their speeches in the first place. So, next time you practice your speech to an individual remember that you are still giving a public speech and it’s no different!

Marcie Akers (mother of author), Global Strategic Account Manager for Oracle Corporation, is responsible for giving speeches in front of her associates and current and/or prospective customers regularly. Whether it is dealing with establishing new executive relationships, introducing a new software solutions, or establishing an outline for the Oracle’s next business opportunity, it is important that she presents her speeches in an effective, compelling style that is precise and informative for her colleagues, customers and prospects. Not unlike the modern interaction of casual conversation, the formal presentation has taken on a more social media spin.  Public speeches are being done over the phone.  Perhaps via Skype or telephone, Akers is often required to give these speeches another way than in person. Partners from all across the world log on to these calls to stay up to date with corporate initiatives. While to some this might seem less stressful to not see the audience’s faces, it still requires a lot of preparation and maybe a couple butterflies.

“Whether it’s dialing in to a call, or standing in front of my audience, the biggest thing that keeps the butterflies at bay is preparation and owning the material I am sharing.  One thing that is for sure is, I wish I had taken more public speaking when I was younger. Being a convincing public speaker is an invaluable art,” said Akers.

Currently at Leesville Road High School, Anderson’s AP English III class is required to give a speech in front of their classmates regarding a thoroughly researched, personally-selected topic. These students have been asked to prepare a speech lasting 5 minutes that demonstrates the research they have compiled about their topic and present it in front of the class along with a visual presentation. Five minutes might not sound like a long time, but for those with glossophobia or are just simply uncomfortable in front of people, it feels like forever. The students are graded on their body language, voice level, eye contact, lack of pauses (likes, ums, etc.), facial expressions, and more. A student’s nightmare.

Although, for some students, the speeches are a breeze. Josh Kirk, a junior at Leesville, was one of the first people in his class to present his speech.  (interview from josh) Kirk, who is in the 26% of people without this fear, is a great example of how other students can learn to cope with their anxiety.

In order to make the butterflies go away and stop the sweating, students can do several things before giving their speech to help calm their nerves.

According to OPEN Forum, there are 11 easy steps a person can take to improve their public speaking. First, refrain from the number of condescending questions you ask yourself. Stay away from questions like: “what if I mess up?” or “what if I forget everything?”, and instead ask yourself “how awesome would it be if I knocked it out of the park?”

These more positive questions will encourage you to want to do your best and keep you from worrying about messing up. Next, they say practice, practice, practice. With practice comes perfection and eventually your speech will come as easy walking. Along with practicing what you plan on saying, also try to memorize the order of your slides (if applicable). This will help you get ready for what is going to come next and restrain you from worrying about space fillers such as like or um.

And of course, stop seeing your speech as a performance. You are talking to people you are relatively comfortable with, and who all have to eventually be in the same place you are. Nobody is perfect and mispronunciations of words is normal, and even expected! Take a deep breath and imagine you are simply having a conversation with your mom or dad about a topic you just so happen to know a ton about.

But, if along the way you still are feeling anxious, feel free to take pauses between your points. This will help slow down your nerves and prevent points being taken off for talking too fast too!

Reading these tips most likely is going to be easier than actually doing them, but if you have confidence in yourself and remember that life will go on, crushing your fear of public speaking is attainable.

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