Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking, is the number one phobia among Americans—yes, it’s more common than fear of spiders, heights, even death. In fact, by most estimates, roughly 75 percent of the population has a crippling fear of public speaking. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld put it, in his 1998 special, I’m Telling You For the Last Time, “This means, to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
But unlike most phobias, which tend to be based on irrational thinking, glossophobia is something that you can actually overcome. All you have to do is become a better public speaker—a task that is, believe it or not, easier said than done. (Literally). The key is, simply: Slow down your speech.
“When you race, people think you’re nervous, and the audience doesn’t receive the message,” says Diane DiResta, president of DiResta Communications, a speech consultancy firm, and the author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz. “So how do you slow down when you’re a speed talker?”
Put simply: Self-awareness. DiResta suggests recording your presentation, listening back to it, and timing your words-per-minute. Most people speak at roughly 125 words-per-minute. If you’re clocking in at a higher rate than that, it’s time to slow your roll. To do that, says DiResta, “take in some deep belly breaths, as opposed to shallow breathing.” Slow breathing instills a natural sense of tranquility. (It’s also the Best Way to Keep Calm When You Totally Want to Lose It.)
Your next step is to instill something called the “beat technique,” wherein you add three quick beats after each sentence. “That gives the audience just enough time to process the message,” says DiResta. Read these sentences out loud to see what she means: “I don’t like public speaking. [One, two, three.] But I need to nail this presentation. [One, two, three.] Oh, boy.” See? The approach injects a natural cadence to your speech.
Finally, now that you’ve mastered the core techniques, you have to learn how to stick to them. Thankfully, says DiResta, there are two easy methods for that. The first requires you to create an accountability system. “Find someone at work or at home and let them know that you’re practicing slowing down your speech,” says DiResta. This will give you another set of eyes (and ears!) to help you stay on track, especially if you’re unable to be objective about that whole 125 words-per-minute thing. The second trick is enormously easy: Just create post-it notes that say “Pause!” and place them in your notes. Next thing you know, you’ll be making “a conscious effort to pause,” says DiResta.
But no matter what, there’s one age-old trope you should never, ever, under any circumstances, fall back on: Picturing your audience in their skivvies. It’s proven to be ineffective. And there’s no science behind this, but yes, the tactic is extraordinarily creepy.
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