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Tongue-Tied by Public Speaking? You’re Not Alone

Doctor Q&A

Director of Shawnee Mission Health Behavioral Health Services

“There are two types of speakers  -  those who get nervous and those who are liars.” ― Mark Twain

Which type are you? Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is ranked number one among all phobias, even higher than the fear of death or spiders. Three out of every four people (75 percent) are affected. And in today’s workplace, where public speaking is often required, that’s a problem.

Considered a social anxiety disorder, glossophobia is characterized by fear of freezing up in front of an audience, of being judged, forgetting a word, or saying something that may result in embarrassment. Many people avoid speaking in front of others at all costs.

Research shows that good presentation skills are directly linked to success in the workplace. Thankfully, help is out there to overcome your anxiety and build confidence. Check your local resources for training sessions and conferences sponsored by trade groups or national organizations. Kansas City’s Central Exchange hosts a Toastmasters special interest group. For individuals seeking one-on-one help, consider seeing a therapist who can teach techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
In the meantime, try this:


Tips for overcoming your speaking anxiety

  • Be confident in your topic. The more you understand your topic and the more passionate you are about it, the less likely you'll make a mistake or get off track. Take some time to consider what questions the audience may ask and have your responses ready.
  • Know your audience. Reference something everyone in the audience will relate to. Maybe street construction made everyone in the room late. Maybe everyone in the room is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. Maybe everyone is suffering from the hot, humid weather. Use the commonality as an ice breaker.
  • Get organized. Carefully plan the information you want to present using an outline, perhaps color-coded, on a small card. Studies show that speakers find comfort in holding something in their hand, so incorporate visual aids and props into your presentation.
  • If possible, visit the place where you'll be speaking. Get acclimated to the setting and practice with the equipment you will be using.
  • Avoid reading word for word. Practice your complete presentation several times. Start by reading it. Progress to using only the bulleted talking points you have outlined on your small card. By practicing, you’ll become more comfortable with the format of your presentation.
  • Challenge specific worries. When you're afraid of something, you may overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening. List your specific worries, and then identify alternative positive outcomes.
  • Make solid eye contact with different individuals in the audience. There is comfort in feeling like you are in a conversation with an individual and not communicating “en masse.” 
  • Don't fear a moment of silence. If you lose track of what you're saying or start to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it may seem like you've been silent for an eternity. In reality, it's probably only a few seconds. Just take a few slow, deep breaths before resuming.
  • If you make a mistake, be human. We all make mistakes. Laugh and move on.
  • Relax, knowing that 75 percent of the audience can relate to your fear!
  • Visualize your success. Imagine the reassurance that will come from the smiles and clapping when you finish. Some speakers report that by the end of their presentation, their nervous butterflies have been replaced with a sense of accomplishment.


If anxiety is keeping you from reaching your fullest potential, call Shawnee Mission Health’s Behavioral Health Assessment Center at 913-789-3218.