I am one of those people who absolutely dread speaking in public. The thought of standing in a classroom or auditorium filled with people and delivering a speech nearly makes me sick to my stomach. I have always wondered why certain people are so terrified of public speaking and why others think it is no big deal. When I graduated high school in 2013, I knew that college was going to force me out of my comfort zone and public speaking was something that I needed to do in college and in my career if I wanted to be successful. As time progressed, I definitely feel like I have become a better public speaker, but I still do not find it any easier to speak publicly even though I am a junior and this is my sixth semester at Penn State.
After doing some research, I actually found that there is a technical term for the fear of public speaking and that term is glossophobia. Usually when I am afraid or not good at things I tend to assume that I am the only who suffers from that fear. Most of the times my assumption is completely false, just like this time. Fear of public speaking is quite common, according to Statistic Brain, around 5,476,000,000 people suffer from some sort of speech anxiety. That is just over 5.4 billion with a B, people. That accounts for just about 74% of the world’s population. So if you think you are the only who hates speaking in public, you’re definitely not. Most likely, the next person you run into on the street shares your feelings about public speaking. This makes glossophobia one of the most common fears or phobias in the world.
Why are over 5 billion people scared of speaking in front of other people?
The reason why most of us hate speaking in public is because our body’s natural reaction to stress kicks in. This reaction is called the “fight or flight” response which is caused by our body’s sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, we start to sweat, fidget, and our heart starts racing. Why do we feel so stressed out? That could be due to a number of reasons like the fear of messing up and the overall pressure of the situation. I also believe that when you speak to an audience that you do not really know, certain people’s comfort levels, including mine, can drop significantly because they are not sure how those audience members are going to react. In my opinion, this is fairly similar to when my high school teacher called on me to answer a question that I did not know. My heart would immediately start racing, I would begin to breathe heavily, and my voice cracked as I muttered “I don’t know.” That is the same fight or flight response that your body gives during public speaking. The fight or flight response has evolved dramatically over the years. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors used this same exact response when they felt their life was threatened by a predator.
Is it possible to become a better public speaker?
The short answer is yes, but it is much easier said than done. With all things in life, if you want to get better at something it is important to practice. Public speaking is something that virtually every single person will have to do in their careers. A number of relaxation techniques can be deployed which tell your fight or flight response to chill out including deep breathing. At Penn State, CAS 100 is a great class for people to practice public speaking. Next time you’re nervous about giving a speech, remember you are not alone. I am most likely ten times as nervous as you are.