DEALING WITH THE FEAR OF SPEAKING
Whatís the number one fear in America? Nuclear war? A depression? An election in which Pat Buchanan wins? Actually, the number one fear in America, according to a 1985 Wall Street Journal Article, is: (you guessed it) Speaking in front of an audience. What is it about an audience--a group of people--that makes speakers fear for their lives? I remember my first speech. It was in a debate. I had to respond to a case that I didnít even understand! I spoke for 45 seconds--30 seconds of this time in silence--and then meekly sat down, too embarrassed to answer questions. Ugh! Professor Dan Rothwell, a former instructor at Western Washington University, told about one student who got up to speak and completely lost her voice!
What is it that makes speakers so nervous? Fear of the audienceís reaction? You know what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to say about this donít you? He said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Rooseveltís phrase worked during the great depression crisis because to a large degree the nation believed. That phrase can work for your speaking "crisis" in the same way if you just believe it. And thereís plenty of reason to believe. Think about it. Everyoneís in the same boat--and we donít want you to sink. Your teacher wants you to do well and so do the other students in the class.
"Well, thatís very nice. But I am panicking!!!"
Everyone does. The best speakers still get that tingling chill when they go up to speak. I know I do. The question is what to do with that knot in your stomach, that dizzy spinning, that uncontrollably shaking hand. The answer is: direct your energies. Look, the bottom line is those anxieties are not going to go away, so do something constructive with them. Direct your tense feelings into energy. Turn that knot into exciting movements, that shaking hand into fine gestures, that dizzy spinning into a speaking frenzy! You can do it! Plus, start thinking about your audience as your friends. Talk with them as you would in a conversation. Professor John Campbellís apt definition of Public Speaking, a conversation with foresight, really hits the nail on the head. Just talk with us. Speeches are not performances. I repeat, speeches are not performances. They are speeches where you talk to a group of friends. Youíre having a conversation with your teacher and fellow students. They want to hear what you have to say. And, again, theyíre there to support you. You can do it!