“And without further delay, I would like to introduce our next speaker…” I am being introduced to take the stand by the Master of Ceremony (MC) who embarks on reading out my short profile. A large crowd of close to 300 colleagues are in the audience. Three speakers have delivered their speeches before me and the applause from the audience was exhilarating. I wonder whether I will capture the crowd’s attention long enough to pass my message and possibly get an applause as well. I remember that the CEO and several directors in the company are in the audience. The MC is still reading out my profile, ever so slowly and adding his anecdotes to clarify my achievements and I can’t help wondering “Is he talking about me?” And then it starts…I have about 1,000 butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms, facial flushes, dry mouth, wild heartbeats, shortness of breath, memory lapses, mental confusions, high anxiety levels… The MC calls out my name and with the welcoming hand claps from the audience I walk to the podium…

I consider myself a good speaker especially on subjects that I am well acquainted to or passionate about. However, the scenario above plays out in similar fashion every time I am about to speak before an audience. Severally I have changed my speech as I walked to the podium, but the inevitable happened – I had to speak! A little anxiety is good when about to speak, but excessive anxiety can paralyze your speech. Great speakers confess of this anxiety and unknown to the audience, they applaud in appreciation without the slightest idea of the fear that gripped the speaker.

Glossophobia is the fear of speaking in public or speaking in general. A leader does not have to speak all the time, but they will need to speak in several occasions. Today we hide behind screens hoping we never have to speak to a live audience. We appear confident in written messages but get tongue tied before an audience. Leaders are expected inspire other towards their envisioned goal. How will you do this if you cannot overcome glossophobia? One way is to look at the root cause of your speaking anxiety.

Self-image Problem

Shyness, inferiority and low self-esteem are feelings that hold you back from public speaking. You can be a genius in the technical aspects of your work, constantly impressing your boss, but if you never accept yourself as being competent in your own right, even speaking in a team meeting will be an uphill task. You deny the team an opportunity to grow based on your knowledge and curtail your career advancement because nobody gets to appreciate your brilliance.

Self-awareness is critical in helping you acknowledge your self-worth and value to your team. Socialising with team members on varied subjects helps you to get comfortable speaking to them. You need them as cheerleaders in your audience next time you speak. Having a couple of people you are familiar with in your audience helps you overcome stage fright based on your self-image.

Perfectionism

Do you find yourself constantly changing your speech content, procrastinating the speaking event or always feeling you have to get the speech right? Given more time you will always find a way to make your speech better. It may never be perfect for delivery, but you can aim for excellence! Give it your best within the provided timeframe. If you tend to be a perfectionist, consider aiming for excellence rather than perfection next time you have to deliver a speech. You can always get a second chance to deliver a better speech, but don’t give up this first chance just because you feel the speech is not yet good enough.

Forgetting your Lines

Excessive anxiety can do a neat job of wiping clean your memory! Practicing your speech over and over before a mirror and before a friend is said to help you remember your lines – I tried this once and I still forgot my lines! To err is human and I have accepted that I can forget my lines.

Use speech prompt cards to guide you on the points you plan to put across. Take short pauses between points in your speech to glance at your notes before moving to your next point. Relax and allow your words to flow freely.

The best way to tame speech anxiety is to keep speaking. You must confront this fear and push yourself to stand before an audience and speak. You can start with a couple of people you are familiar to before standing before a large unfamiliar audience, but you must practice. You will be surprised to realise that indeed, you can speak!

About The Author

Gakii Nkonge

Gakii Dominica is a vibrant risk and quality management practitioner in a professional services firm. She is committed to continuous performance improvement and driving organizational efficiency. She is passionate about her life purpose – developing young leaders and economically empowering women in Africa. She believes Africa needs better leaders to steer the continent into a developed economy. She envisions an Africa with focused leaders and women strengthened to be the backbone of its development and growth.

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