Is Glossaphobia Holding You Back?

Do you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about speaking in front of a group of people? Do you get a severe case of butter flys in your stomach everytime you are called upon to speak in class or at a business meeting? Does the thought of standing up in front of a group of any size may you nauseus. If they do, you are suffering from glossaphobia or speech anxiety, commonly referred to as the fear of publick speaking. Wait! Do not hang your head in shame and despair. The latest studies show that 75 percent of the population suffer from glossaphobia to one degree or another. As far as phobias go, glossaphobia made the top of the phobia list even out-ranking the fear of death and dying. Most people would rather face the risk of dying, than get up in front of a group of people and speak. The good news is that it is also one of the easiest phobias to overcome.

I have been a public speaker since the early 1960s. I have spoken hundreds of times, thousands of times, before groups varying in size from a half-dozen people to as many as several hundred people. Was I a natural born public speaker? Was I born with the gift of gab? Was I one of the lucky 25 percent of the population that was born immune to glossaphobia? Hell no! When I was in school, grade school and high school, just the thought of getting up in front of my peers to give an oral book report made me sick to my stomach. I still suffered from it when I enlisted in the United States Air Force. It was at that point that I knew I had to do something about my speech anxiety, and I had to do it fast. I took an evening college course in public communications. That taught me how to prepare a speech, but it did not domuch for my fear of public speaking. I bit the bullet and paid through the nose for a Dale Carnegy course being given on base. His course helped more than the college course did, but I still had too many butterflys to say that I was cured. That was when my squadron’s First Sergeant invited me to attend a Toastmasters meeting as his guest. The one thing that I feared the most about public speaking was speaking off the cuff, impromptu speaking, speaking with no preparation at all, and when I witnessed my first Table Topics session, I knew I had found the cure. I joined that very night and I have been affiliated with one TI club or another ever since.

In all fairness, there are many good organizations today that can help you overcome glossaphobia, but none of them provides you with as much bang for your buck. With Toastmasters International, your yearly dues, after the initial setup fee of $20, is only $84 per year.

Today we have over 13,500 clubs in 116 countries, with more than 280,000 members. We are sure to have a few clubs in your area. To fin a club near you, just click on this link and enter your zip code Visit several clubs before committing to one of them. Toastmasters Clubs have unique cultures, just like people and you need to find the one that is a good fit for you.

If you live in the Colorado Springs area, I would love to have you as a guest at my club, the Downtown Toastmasters, Club 5158. We meet in the Academy Room at City Hall every Friday between 12:05 and 1:05 PM.

Until next time.



Murphy’s Law and the Public Speaker

Murphy’s lawis an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. No one is immune to Murphy’s Law, but some people,like public speakers, place themselves in situations that provide old Mr. Murphy more opportunities to come out and play then others do.

Let me begin this post by sharing a true story with you. My first wife was great at volunteering me for things that she felt I would be good at without thinking about asking me first. Me being a licensed electrician, she volunteered my services to her church when they needed their auditorium stage rewired but didn’t have the funds to pay the labor that any professional electrician would have charged them to do it. Another time, when her favorite charity needed someone to do audio-visual work for them, she volunteered me. That led me into doing my first public speaking engagement and my first encounter with Mr. Murphy as a public speaker. Normally all I had to do was handle the AV work for their educational speaker who traveled around giving educational talks at fund raisers. Unfortunately, people get sick unexpectedly, and she did a few days before an important presentation in January of 1961. The chapter director called in the middle of dinner that Wednesday night and asked me if I could do the whole program that Friday night. She promised me that the church where I would be speaking would have someone to handle all the AV work for me and I would have to do is give the presentation. I suppose I could have said no. I could have told her that I hadn’t signed on for that, but I liked her and felt sorry for her. Besides that, it was a fund raiser to raise funds for a local man suffering from MS, so I said “yes.” My first mistake was not to check where I was to speak ahead of time. When I walked into that church the night of the presentation, I couldn’t believe how tiny the stage I would be speaking from really was. In my mind, I could see hundreds of signs welcoming Murphy to come out and play. There wasn’t enough wall receptacles for all the AV equipment that I would be using, so they had more extension cords strung all over the stage then Carter had Little Liver Pills. One of those extension cords was strung a few feet behind the lectern from which I would be speaking. Well, you’ve guessed it. A few minutes into my presentation, I stepped too far backwards during a gesture, tripped over that extension cord, and found myself lying flat on my back. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the domino effect. It seemed like that one extension cord was attached to everything on and around that stage. My falling down brought everything down with me—slide projector, movie projector, overhead projector, tape recorders, and microphones. Of course everything was damaged in their falling and I had to go without any of the electronic visual aids that the regular speaker always depended on.

That night could have been a total disaster for me if I had been one of the 70 percent of the population that suffered from glossophobia to one degree or another. Fortunately I had overcome my fear of public speaking in the military some years earlier. Fortunately, most public speakers never encounter anything quite that extreme. Still, every public speaker needs to be prepared to handle whatever old Murphy throws at them. Three of the most common ways Murphy enters the speaker’s presentation are in the forms of hecklers, audience anger, and the never-ending question.

Perhaps the only place a speaker will not have to worry about encounter one or all three of these problems is when speaking in a Toastmasters Club setting. At least not in a blatantly, overt manner. When speaking outside of the club environment every speaker needs to know how to handle hecklers, an angry audience, and never-ending questions because any of these things can derail a speech and destroy a speaker in the eyes of his or her audience if the speaker handle these situation in an inadequate or inappropriate manner.

Let’s take a closer look at those three problems and how you can handle them.

The Heckler

The “Heckler” strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced and stalwart of speakers. Hecklers can be depended upon to show up at any presentation where any speech on an unpopular or controversial subject will be presented. Political speeches; religious speeches; speeches on social issues, like abortion, gun control, and pornography, will all attract the hecklers in drove. Hecklers, if not handled properly can destroy a speech and the speakers credibility with his or her audience. So what should you do when a heckler makes his or her presence known? How should you, the speaker, react to the heckler?

There are many ways that you can react in a heckling situation, but the one way that you do not ever want to react is by confronting the heckler directly. A direct confrontation between you and the heckler is always counterproductive. A frontal attack is counterproductive because you will appear as being angry and hostile to your audience and that will alienate them. Your objective when giving any presentation is to get your audience on your side, not to alienate them. Even if the members in your audience do not agree with what the heckler is saying about you or your subject, they will still support the heckler’s right to freedom of speech and if you try to deny him or her that right, you will alienate your audience.

Just as a frontal attack on the heckler is counterproductive, so is ignoring the heckler. You cannot ignore them because they will derail your presentation as assuredly as a malfunctioning switch will derail a speeding freight train. OK, so if a frontal attack on the heckler is not an option and ignoring the heckler is not an option, just how do you handle a heckling situation?

Personally, my preferred method is to “cut them off at the pass.” I love that expression. Picked it from watching hours and hours of westerns on TV as a kid. The posse in those old westerns were always shouting, “Let’s cut them off at the pass,” as they chased the rustlers or bank robbers. By today’s TV fare of cops and robbers, they were in hot pursuit of their felons and wanted to cut off their route of escape. Like the members of those posse of yesteryear, or Cordell Walker of today’s “Walker, Texas Ranger”, one of my favorite shows, I never miss the reruns, I like to be proactive. I like to cut the hecklers off at the pass. I like to cut them off before they have a chance to get started. So what do I do to cut them off at the pass? The way that I prevent them from becoming a problem in the first place is to let everyone in my audience know how they can contact me and use that as a way to direct unwanted inputs away from my speech. Of course that doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. Some hecklers need an audience to play off of and when I have one of them in my audience, I deal with them by first acknowledging them and their position and then then move on and tell them that I’ll be available after the presentation to talk about their issue(s).

The angry audience.

Toastmasters Clubs have a mentoring program in which an experienced speaker is matched up with a new member to help them with their first five or six speeches. In my club, I am one of those mentors. Like every mentor, one of the very first things that I impress upon those that I’m mentoring is that their audience really wants them to succeed as a speaker. We don’t, and maybe we should, go on to say that we are talking about their fellow Toastmasters as the audience they are presenting to. In real life, when speaking outside the Toastmasters Club environment, that is not always the case. In many cases, for many different reasons, a speaker’s audience may be out for his or her blood. An audience could be angry at the speaker for many different reasons. We will just explore a few of the main ones in this post.

First, you may have unknowingly stepped into a hostile environment. If you are making a business presentation before the employees of a large company, those employees may be stressed out and angry over recent layoffs due to company downsizing. They may even be in fear of being in the next round of layoffs. Second, even worse, depending on the nature of your presentation, they may even blame you for the events taking place in their little world. The bottom line is that the reasons behind the audiences anger doesn’t really matter because anger is anger, and that anger is being directed at you.

Once again, the best way to handle an angry audience is to cut them off at the pass. A speaker cannot afford allow him or herself be surprised by an audience. Cutting them off at the pass in this situations means having a discussion with the person who asked you to present in advance to explore how the audience feels about the subject you will be speaking on. That’s being proactive. I take these proactive measures one step further by arriving early for my presentation which gives me a chance to mingle with audience before my speech and that always gives me a good reading on their mood.

When facing a hostile audience, you need to be able to revise your speech right then and there. You need to cut out everything except the most important parts of your presentation. You need to move into the Q&A portion of your speech in an expeditious manner because that’s what your audience really wants to do, to ask questions and get answers to those questions. I have found over the years that the more time I could spend in Q&A with an angry audience, the better they felt towards me and towards my presentation when it was all over.

Dealing With The Never-Ending Question

There always appears to be at least one member of the audience who wants to ask a question, but really isn’t sure of how to word their question. What happens is that when they stand up to ask their question, they ramble on and on, so you are never quite sure what their real question is. Many speakers think that this person really wasn’t listening to them and dismiss them out of hand, thus alienating them. The problem with these people is not in their listening skills, but in the fact that they didn’t take the time to clearly formulate their question in their minds before they stood up to ask it. My way of handling this situation is to create my own question from what the person has said, answer it, and let the person know that if they have any additional questions I’ll be available after my speech to speak with them more.

In conclusion

Like the Boy Scouts, we need to always “Be Prepared.” that’s the Boy Scouts Motto, and it needs to become our motto as well. We will never be able to anticipate what will happen when we give our next speech, but we need to be prepared to handle whatever happens. As speakers we need to know how to go with the flow in order to maximize the benefits of public speaking for our audiences.

By the Numbers

One of the things that we talk a great deal about in Toastmasters is the importance of capturing the audiences attention within the first 60 seconds of your stage time. We also spend a great deal of time talking about techniques that one can use to hold his or her audience’s attention. What we do not spend enough time talking about is things that a speaker may do that will cause him or her to lose his or her audience’s attention and presenting a great of statistical and other numerical data in its raw form is one of those things.

Numerical data is a very powerful tool and its use is essential to the success of most oral presentations. No, I am not contradicting myself. It is essential to the success of most oral presentations when presented in the right manner. It almost certainly assure the failure of a presentation when presented in the wrong manner, when numerical data is presented in a strictly numerical format.

Presenting numerical data as numbers during a strictly oral presentation is not only hard to comprehend, it is even harder to remember. That is the bad news. The good news is that there are a few simple things that a speaker can do to make numerical data easier to understand and easier to remember. I will only touch briefly on a few of them in this article.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly. When presented orally, a series of numbers as numbers can be hard to comprehend. It is difficult to visualize them and to see how they relate to one another, yet speakers must be able to do just that. The answer to this problem is to present the information using a variety of graphs. Present your numerical data using bar graphs, pie graphs, line graphs, picture graphs, and so forth. Graphs and pictures will hold your audience’s attention and help them to understand and remember the numerical data being presented to him. You may remember hearing about the “Learning Pyramid” in school. You may recall from that pyramid that people only retain 5 percent of what is presented to them in a strictly oral fashion. Retention is increased to 10 percent when the same data is presented in a written format. When that same data is presented both orally and visually, the retention rate jumps to 20 percent. The use of graphs presents the same data that the speaker is presenting orally in a visual format that is easy for the audience to understand.

Get your audience involved in your presentation

Take your presentation to the next level—move from the passive to the active or interactive. In the passive mode of presentation, you do all the talking while the audience, we hope, listens attentively. In the active mode of making a presentation, the presenter gets the audience to actively interact with him or her. One of the ways a speaker can do this when presenting numbers is to as the audience questions that require some kind of response, rhetorical questions, a statement in question form, questions that do not require a response, do not work well here. Depending on the subject of your presentation, you might ask your audiences questions like, “how much money would you like to earn” or “how much money would you like to save” or other similar questions that require a response from the listener.

Get the numbers right

We are all human and being human we are all prone to err. We may stumble over a word here or there during our presentations and our audience will understand and forgive us. We may mangle a pronunciation of a word or two. Again our audience will understand and forgive us. Your audience will not understand and forgive you if you get your numbers wrong and they catch your error. Instead of understanding and forgiving you, what they will do is to begin to question all the other numerical data you have presented to them. Get your numbers wrong and let your audience catch you, and trust me they will, you might as well shut up and set down because you will have lost your audience. For those of us who also write for major publications, those publications have fact checkers whose only job is to make sure that the facts we claim to be facts are correct before our article sees print. As speakers, we have to be our own fact checkers and need to take the time to double and even triple check all our facts, especially numerical facts. If there is even the slightest chance that you will get the numbers wrong, use notes.

Try it, I guarantee that you and your audience will love it.

Apply these ideas to your next presentation that requires the presentation of complex numerical data and see for yourself how much more successful you presentation will be.

By the Numbers