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Public speaking – it’s a phobia!


What is it about public speaking? Whether that refers to informing or entertaining a hall full of people or just presenting on your feet to half a dozen colleagues or clients, it ranks in the top ten of people’s greatest phobias.


There is even a name for it – glossophobia!


It lurks right up there in many such surveys with the likes of claustrophobia (enclosed spaces), ophidiophobia (snakes) and, as my younger daughter would testify, arachnophobia (spiders).


Behavioural scientists also come up with lists of common human fears, such as pain, loneliness, ridicule, rejection or death. But top of such lists often comes failure.


There may be a connection here. Is glossophobia linked to the fear of failure?


If so, this is an irrational fear. There is no reason why you should fail as a public speaker or presenter. Public speaking is a skill, like driving a car. It can be taught. And it is taught, every day, in books, like my own – Stand, Speak, Deliver – and in videos and thousands of public speaking clubs around the world.


Public speaking is essential to progressing our careers, to living our lives fully. If your image of public speaking is one of David Lloyd George on a soapbox, with wing collar, flowing white locks and impassioned, mellifluous, Celtic oratory, then think again.


Addressing a large audience is but one extreme of public speaking. A much more common situation is the seminar or meeting room, when you are presenting to colleagues or clients. The skills you learn in public speaking are the very same as those you need for presenting.


Learn the skills of public speaking and you will stand out as a presenter.


And what about when you are in a meeting with three, six or a dozen colleagues and your boss turns to you and asks: ‘What’s your take on this?’ If you follow the skills of public speaking, you will answer with a structured ‘speech’ – with an opening, body and conclusion – and you will deliver your content clearly, coherently and animatedly.


And your answer will be so structured whether you deliver it in three minutes or thirty seconds.


Less obviously, but equally emphatically, the skills of public speaking can be applied to conversing on a one-to-one basis, whether with a friend, acquaintance or colleague. Skills such as varying the voice, using your hands appropriately and keeping the listener entertained will make you an engaging conversationalist.


The best way to improve your public speaking, of course, is to actually do it – to practise, whenever you can, to whatever size of audience. The more practice you get, the better at it you will become.


From Stand, Speak, Deliver by Vaughan Evans