Last updated on August 12th, 2020
Glossophobia: The Fear of Public Speaking
For my entire life, there has been one fear that has stuck out above all of the others combined: public speaking. This type of anxiety, known as glossophobia, was crippling for me at times; there are times where my mind would go completely blank under pressure. Some also refer to this as speech anxiety. This is my story of how I overcame it and turned a weakness into a strength.
For many people, public speaking isn’t really a big deal. Some are even a complete natural at it and can get in front of a large crowd without a second thought and improvise the entire speech or presentation.
I am not like these people. Throughout my life, I have been overly self-conscious of myself, especially when it comes to public speaking. Unfortunately, my speech anxiety was always pretty extreme, and I have always been embarrassed and ashamed of myself for it.
I have always feared making a fool out of myself in front of the entire crowd. What if my jokes fall flat? What if I’m boring to the point of making my audience fall asleep? Or even worse, what if they think everything I’m saying is stupid?
For some reason, my body would want to freeze up when I’m on a stage or in front of a class of people, and there are times I would be so nervous that my hands would shake. At times, even my voice would crack. I remember those moments so vividly as if they happened yesterday. I also still remember how embarrassed I felt as I tried to salvage the rest of the presentation while people looked on awkwardly in silence.
Overcoming My Crippling Public Speaking Fear: Glossophobia
The rational side of me knows that 99.9% of people don’t judge other’s presentations too harshly. I myself have heard countless mediocre or bad presentations without a negative thought. But being a perfectionist, I wanted everything I did to be the absolute best; otherwise, why do it?
A major problem and hurdle for me over the years was telling myself it’s okay not to be perfect. This was the first step to overcoming my glossophobia anxiety.
How Travel Helped Me Overcome the Horrific Speech Anxiety Known as Glossophobia
Fighting Glossophobia by Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
However, I really started to notice an improvement in 2014 when I was an exchange student in Taiwan. Getting out of my comfort zone was one of the best decisions I ever made. All of the cultural differences actually helped me see things in a new light. Being in a new and unique environment was exactly what I needed to fight this speech anxiety I struggled with for so many years.
Nature of Classes Helped Combat My Public Speaking Fear
I was able to regain my confidence slowly but surely due to the nature of classes at CYCU, the local university in Taiwan. Instead of exam-heavy courses, most of mine focused on class discussion, group projects, and presentations.
In addition, since most of my classes were taught in English, and I was the only native speaker in all but 1 of my classes, the professors did rely on me pretty often to help lead class discussion on the day’s major topic. For example, I remember kick-starting a discussion on Taiwan-China relations in Dr. Gary Chin’s class and leading a debate over a Business Ethics case in Dr. Francis Diaz’s. It was nice to actually be the center of attention for once.
Since I came to know most of my classmates in all of my classes, it was easier for me to step in front of them. Since I already knew they respected my thoughts & opinions, I did not have those irrational fears or any form of speech anxiety. As a result, my presentations were mostly smooth, confident, informative, and even funny at times.
Turning the Corner Against Glossophobia
As I went through one successful presentation after another, I thought to myself, “maybe this isn’t so bad after all!” I owe so much of my confidence now to my year studying in Taiwan. Studying abroad is so important, and I highly encourage everyone to give it a shot if you have the chance.
Returning to America: Did My Prior Speech Anxiety Return?
I did worry that my crippling public speaking anxiety would return once I was back in front of a mostly American group of students. I certainly felt the effects of reverse culture shock after going back to America from Taiwan the previous year; would this also be another aspect of that? Despite these concerns, I told myself I would try to repeat what was so successful for me in Taiwan.
Adam vs Glossophobia: The First Major Test With My Public Speaking Fear
I had a few smaller presentations that went pretty well, so I felt good about myself. But the big test was the 20-30 minute research paper presentation I had coming at the end of one of my two undergraduate programs. If I could knock this out of the park, I would know I was finally rid of my nagging anxiety.
As one person after another gave excellent, well-detailed presentations, I found myself thinking I should be nervous. However, for some reason, I felt as confident as ever.
So, I got in front of the class and delivered arguably the best presentation of my life over Taiwan-China Relations, and after I finished, I couldn’t help smiling at how far I had come. Glossophobia was now just a word to me.
I had finally made it through the desert of my mind. Public speaking anxiety no longer had control over me, and I turned a weakness into a strength. I have used what I learned in all of the job interviews I’ve had since then, and regardless if I get the job or not, I feel good about putting my best foot forward and not thinking about the what-ifs. I am very thankful for the incredibly immersive travel experiences I had; without going out into the world in a completely different environment than I was used to, I likely would have never defeated my public speaking fear.
Tips for Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking
1. Be Over-Prepared to Combat Glossophobia
I cannot stress how important this particular tip is, which is why I have it listed at number 1. To combat your glossophobia anxiety, you must know the content you are speaking about inside-and-out. Do not expect to simply roll out of bed and have yourself a smooth, well-spoken presentation.
Overcoming this hurdle often requires several hours of rehearsing your speech out loud, making corrections, and rehearsing some more. When you get up in front of the audience, you want it to feel like just another rehearsal. That’s the level of preparation you need; nothing less.
2. Make a PowerPoint & Note Cards to Ensure Your Mind Never Goes Blank
PowerPoints & Note cards have been absolute life-savers for me through the years. I highly encourage you to use these tools for your next presentation, even if you are naturally a great public speaker. I find they help keep my thoughts organized. As a result, you are less likely to stumble on your words. Even more important, you can avoid the awkward silences that ensue when your mind goes completely blank.
3. Clear Your Mind of All Negative Thoughts Before Your Time to Speak
In the past, the moments leading up to my time to get in front of the class, I would have a rush of negative thoughts & self-doubt. Instead of letting these thoughts come & go, I would dwell on them. As a result, I could feel my heart beating way too fast, my stomach churning, and my forehead sweating.
I implore you to learn from my mistakes; learn to let go of all negative thoughts. Before you get in front of a class, on a stage, or in front of a boardroom, take a few brief moments to block everything out from your mind. Close your eyes if you have to. Whatever it takes to get your mind in the right place. Once you learn how to stop defeating yourself beforehand, you are on the right path to having a great presentation.
4. Take a Deep Breath to Compose Yourself
One thing I always do before every single presentation or interview now is I stop and take a deep breath. This helps me shake off any last nerves, gets my heart pumping at a normal rate, and allows me to maintain composure & confidence, which are absolutely vital to being successful.
5. Learn to Accept Your Public Speaking Speech Anxiety
While you can make your anxiety more manageable, do not expect it to ever vanish completely. Public speaking anxiety is still a constant struggle, and your battle with any form of anxiety is never truly over; this is why I use these exact tips to help me each & every time. However, you can train yourself to tame it to an acceptable level like I have. Looking back to where I came from, I am light years ahead and could not be happier with the progress I’ve made. I even became an English teacher when I lived in Taiwan the second time around in 2015!
The path to getting where I am today was a long one, but if I can overcome this, you can do the same for whatever you feel is holding yourself back from reaching your potential.
What Are You Struggling With?
Does my glossophobia public speaking fear resonate with any of you? If so, I hope my tips can help you alleviate speech anxiety to some degree. I would be happy to discuss it further with you and hear some of your stories down below.
In addition, what are some other fears & anxieties you have silently dealt with? If you have overcome them, how did you make it happen? If not, what do you feel is holding you back? I’m no psychiatrist, but I would love to help in any way I can, and I will always make time to chat.
As always, please feel free to leave comments/questions as I will be reading each & every one of them and responding. If you want to know something, ask away! Do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything at all or would like to chat! Please hit those follow, share, & like buttons; just don’t eat the apple. Until next time, stay traveling (safely)!