Let’s play a word association game. What are the first three words that come to your mind when you hear ‘public speaking’? If words along the lines of ‘nervous’, ‘panic’ and ‘flustered’ came to mind, then fret not, you are definitely not alone.
According to research the biggest phobia out there isn’t spiders, heights or even death…it’s actually public speaking. In fact, statistics say that around 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety- or as it is known in psych-speak- ‘glossophobia’.
You might not be able to break floorboards in the workplace, but if you can bring resounding energy and confidence to your speaking, then I’m sure you will leave a lasting impression in any situation.
Fear of public speaking statistics
This statistic may seem alarmingly high, but for many, it is very relatable. I mean what could be more terrifying than getting up in front of a room full of people, or worse yet, an entire crowd? Just think of all those judgemental eyes boring into you.
No matter how old you are, you suddenly feel as though you’ve been transported back to your spectacled eight-year-old self, reciting a speech about your pet budgie off painfully jumbled palm cards. When Eminem rapped, ‘palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy’, surely he was describing the inherent dread felt before any speaking engagement.
Fear of public speaking phobia
So, why is it that we humans are so inherently fearful of speaking in public? Some believe that the answer stems from evolution. In ancient times being part of a group or collective was highly important in terms of survival. Ostracism or separation from a group would most likely result in death. Due to this, group acceptance and approval were of utmost importance. Hence the fear of standing out, or being rejected.
In a quest to find the holy grail of public speaking tips, I may have struck pure gold. Who better to talk to about how to become a better speaker than the Australian Poetry Slam Champion Zohab Zee Khan.
Since winning the title in 2014, Zohab has forged a highly successful career out of the spoken word, and his poetry has been published in both English and Japanese. If you watch his powerful piece ‘Imagine’- you will surely get chills (and feel highly inadequate).
I was lucky enough to sit down with Zohab while he was in town preforming at the Hong Kong Literary Festival, and took the opportunity to pick his brain on all things public speaking. The result…
5 tips that will make you a better public speaker:
1. Engage your whole body
Many people may not think of warming up their bodies before speaking, however Zohab recommends getting tactile. Incorporate stretches, deep breathing, and even spirit fingers before you take the stage. Hey…if it works for him, then I’m willing to give it a go!
2. Cheer Squad
The audience is the scariest part right of public speaking, right? Well Zohab emphasizes that we should all remember that people actually want us to succeed.
They are rooting for you, no one wants you to fail, they want you to do well, so just remember that.
3. Lighten Up
Remember not to take yourself too seriously, whatever happens, keep it light. If your presentation freezes on a slide, or you make a momentary gaff, just remember we have all been there. If you don’t get flustered, then your listeners won’t either.
4. Eye contact is everything
Zohab emphasised the importance of eye contact, something he is sure to incorporate into every performance. Regardless of the size of the crowd, try and make eye contact with everyone. Even if there is a dark room, make sure to look around and emulate the act of engaging with your audience.
People come up to me afterwards and say I thought you were performing just for me.
5. Channel nervous energy
It is natural to be nervous to a degree, and interestingly, Zohab connects fear with excitement. “When you are scared or excited, your heart is pumping.” Physiologically we may enter into a fight or flight state, and through learning to master nervous energy we can improve our speaking skills.
Fear of public speaking tips
I asked Zohab what his most memorable performance was, and he spoke of the Performance Poetry World Cup at a small country town in northern New South Wales in Australia. He performed an eight-minute poem on a dusty little stage, and nearly broke the floorboards- which isn’t surprising given Zohab’s stature and the energy he brings to his craft. After he “really got into it” a geriatric former-hippy gentleman approached him with a tear in his eye and said, “I am so glad I lived long enough to see that”.
You might not be able to break floorboards in the workplace, but if you can bring resounding energy and confidence to your speaking, then I’m sure you will leave a lasting impression in any situation. If you’re interested in developing your public speaking skills, or want to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, then why not participate in a spoken word poetry night in your city, or join a public speaking club like Toastmasters.
With 2018 around the corner, there’s no doubt that there will be an insurgence of new year’s resolution lists being hastily written on to post-it notes, and typed into phones all around the world. Why not add ‘get over my public speaking phobia’ to the list and we can work together to reduce that crazy statistic, one brave speaker at a time.
Do you suffer from a phobia of public speaking? Let us know in the comment below how you go with these 5 fear of public speaking tips!
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How to overcome public speaking anxiety fast