Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tripping Over Your Tongue, or Why Was I So Worried?

The title of my speech ended up being Tripping Over Your Tongue. According to my professor, most speech titles have a verb in them. I don't know that I've seen many speech titles, so I can't verify from experience whether or not this is true. Considering it was part of the grade, I didn't want to take a chance.

Tuesday, I did everything I knew how to do to boost my confidence. I wore my hair in a soft side pony. I wore a new green, chiffon, belted dress that I got multiple compliments on before class even started. I would have worn heels, but I have about a quarter mile walk from my car to my classroom. I even distracted myself with the USA soccer game (the classmate from the coffee shop and I watched the last quarter of it together in the hallway before class). Once class started, though, I went back to a trembling puddle of nerves. It didn't help that I had to move my seat so the professor could sit right directly in the middle of the classroom. I guess everyone else needed a distraction at that moment, too, so everyone watched me walk all the way around the room to switch seats. I was already afraid of falling down that I ran into a chair.

Fortunately, even though my name is always first on the roster, I did not have to speak first. I had a few minutes to watch other people fumble through, play with the podium, and a couple who knocked it out of the park. I decided to go after I got some pressure from my friend and my professor asked me if I was ready. I wasn't ready. I was NOWHERE near ready, but this was one of those do-or-die moments. So I agreed. I very slowly and politely handed in my formal outline, took a deep breath, and slid out of my chair. I think the funeral dirge was playing as I was walking up to the front of the class, but I can't be sure. That may have just been my heart in my throat. Coffee shop classmate smiled at me. Classmate friend smiled at me. Professor smiled at me. I took a deep breath, and the next five minutes flew by. I stumbled a couple of times, but luckily had anchor points all the way across the classroom. One on my right. One dead center. One to my left. When I felt like I was going to faint, I made eye contact with my people. I'm not sure I would have done as well without them, and OH did I do well!

My voice, while feeling disconnected from my body, was strong. My hands were still. I smiled when appropriate, emoted my "Get Excited!" so loud it rang across the room, and my closing was delivered with the perfect beat. I took my notes and walked back to my seat. My teacher whispered "Very well done, Amy", classmate friend patted me on the shoulder, and coffee shop classmate was smiling at me. I got more compliments at the break. My professor even pulled me aside after class (the first time I've been asked to stay after a class IN MY LIFE) to tell me she couldn't believe that I was so nervous because I had done so well.

Looking back, I can't tell why I was so nervous. I did the necessary research, I practiced relentlessly, I hi-lighted my speaker's outline, and I was confident. I was ready, I was just afraid. I took my nervous energy and channeled it into that excitement that Alison Wood Brooks was talking about. We have another speech due in two weeks, and this time I'm ready. I'm not afraid. Well, I'm a little afraid, but some fear and anxiety are normal. This time, I might even go second or third!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Glossophobia, or Why I Have Problems Speaking in Front of People

I am terrified of speaking in front of people. Coincidentally, I also HAVE to take a public speaking class for my degree. It's not optional. I literally HAVE to take and pass this class. So far, we've given a 45-second introduction on another classmate, and a two-minute speech on what we would take with us off of a sinking ship if we knew we were going to be stranded on a deserted island. I bluffed my way through the first one, and stuttered through the second, forgetting half of my explanations for why I would bring what I would bring.

This week is my first graded speech, so obviously I am not breathing. I spent the whole weekend researching and writing, only stopping long enough to go have coffee with a classmate. Instead of summarizing the whole thing, I'm just going to post it here for you. Keep in mind I only had one week to complete it. Everything is put into my own words and I've tried to cite any necessary sources verbally. It had to be five minutes long, but if you have any interest in the subject of glossophobia or speech anxiety, you might find it interesting.

Without further ado . . .

When I was in 7th grade I was given an assignment by my favorite English teacher – to give a speech about racism. Growing up in a small town, racism was everywhere from my school cafeteria to my church on Sundays. The number one thing I heard was the debate over why we had Martin Luther King Day off. I formulated an idea that I called “Great American Men in History Day”, wrote a riveting 3 minute speech on the topic, printed out pictures of who I felt were great American men in history, and practiced my speech instead of my music. Finally the day of the speech came. I curled my hair, wore an outfit that my modeling instructor had praised me for, and thought I was ready to go. That is, until I got to the podium. My hands were shaking, my voice refused to project and instead came out raspy and crackling, and I completely forgot my visual aids. I even got points taken off of my speech because of my physical reaction. To this day I am still terrified to speak in front of people, a condition known as glossophobia. I have now spent over 14 hours researching this phobia, and today I am going to tell you what glossophobia is, how it affects us physically, and give you some steps to overcome it.

Let’s start with the definition of glossophobia. Put in its simplest terms, it is the fear of public speaking. The name comes from the Greek word “glossa” meaning tongue, and “phobos” meaning phobia. It is also commonly referred to as speech anxiety. According to Dr. Dan J. Stein, the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, in his 2011 paper titled “Subtyping Social Anxiety Disorder in Developed and Developing Countries”, about 22% of the world population suffers from a fear of speaking or performing in front of other people. After thoroughly searching through every journal, article, and blog post I could find one thing is for certain – no one yet understands the underlying cause of glossophobia. It is thought to come from traumatic childhood speaking experiences like the one I’ve shared with you. Other possible causes are low self-esteem, expectation of failure, an illusion of transparency – where a speaker feels that their audience can see exactly how he or she is feeling, and the spotlight effect – where the speaker feels like everyone in the audience is paying more attention to their shortcomings or even a spot on her tshirt than they actually are.

Now let’s take a look at how glossophobia affects you. We all know the outward symptoms – your hands are shaky, your breathing is shallow, you feel like your heart is going to beat right out of your chest, and your throat feels like there’s a golf ball lodged in it. You may even become dizzy. These are all physiological responses to your sympathetic nervous system dumping adrenaline into your bloodstream. The sympathetic nervous system – what you might know as your fight-or-flight response – is programmed to detect danger in our everyday lives. In public speaking, there is no real danger – at least not the type that we are biologically hardwired to avoid, such as the threat of injury or death – but there is the threat of embarrassment and failure. Your brain subconsciously detects this threat and prepares your body to run away from the threat. This results in the outward symptoms that plague so many of us when we walk up to the podium. A second theory exists, championed by Dr Jeffrey Gray of the Institute for Psychology in London, that a feature of the human brain called the comparator quote “detects conflict between an organisms goals and current environmental conditions” end quote. In other words, this feature detects if there are likely to be negative consequences to our actions. If the possibility exists, then the comparator switches on what Dr Gray refers to as the behavior inhibition system which will then shut down motor function. This is why we sometimes become tongue tied, have a feeling of being frozen on the spot, or even unable to speak. In both cases, continued exposure to the threat without negative repercussions does cause the physiological response to lessen – basically, the more you speak in front of people the more your brain calms down.

Now that you know what glossophobia is, and how it affects you physically, let’s look at some ways to overcome it. In an article titled “How Can I Overcome My Fear of Public Speaking?” Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin, a psychiatrist from Rochester Minnesota, suggests that knowing your topic inside and out, being organized, practicing until you’re tired of hearing your own voice, visualizing success for yourself, and doing some deep breathing exercises can help abate your speech anxiety. A study produced by Alison Wood Brooks, assistant professor of Business Administration at Harvard University, suggests that channeling your anxiety into excitement can help improve your performance. Telling yourself out loud “I am excited!” or even writing “get excited” on the top of your speaker’s outline can trigger an excited physiological reaction.

In conclusion, glossophobia – also known as speech anxiety - affects about 22% of the world’s population. The exact causes of the phobia are unknown, but are thought to be a traumatic childhood experience, low self-esteem, or illusions of transparency and the spotlight effect. Our nervous reactions are caused by our sympathetic nervous system, and possibly a feature in our brain called the comparator, both of which can halt our physical actions in the case of a perceived threat. Ways to overcome glossophobia are by knowing our material, practicing, visualizing ourselves succeeding, deep breathing exercises, and channeling our anxiety into excitement. Anyone can become a great public speaker, and while anxiety is a normal and healthy part of our everyday lives, it does not have to rule them.