Jaws vs. Glossophobia – Attack of the Podium

Chief Brody’s hands may have started to sweat and shake as he instinctively backs up away from the mortal threat, his mouth goes dry, his neck flushes and his voice wavers. He’s seen the shark, and he thinks that he and Quint and Hooper need a bigger boat to catch the shark.  The Chief’s autonomic fight or flight system is fully in command, and it’s the same as it ever was for tens of thousands of years since early humans encountered Saber Tooth Tigers.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. We see people encountering this fear every day. Many of the participants in our workshops report “near out of body” experiences when they present. During feedback sessions, they will ask only minutes after leaving the podium, “Did I mention the X and Y part of the project?” They literally don’t know what they said. We also see people morph from relaxed, confident professionals, as they introduce and give context to the presentation, to a bundle of nerves just a few seconds later as they formally begin their talk. They ask us, “What in the hell happens when I go up there? It’s like my brain is swimming in quicksand.” The answer is that your senses are on overdrive triggered by the secretion of adrenaline.

As you stand for your presentation, your eyes may see the Sr. VP of Engineering, but your prehistorically-encoded brain sees a twenty-five-foot white shark and reacts accordingly. Your digestive system shuts down which explains the dry mouth and the butterflies in your stomach. Your blood vessels dilate causing the flush around your neck and face. Your pupils dilate too which helps your distance vision (to watch for the shark’s fin!) but frustratingly diminishes your ability to read your speaking notes at the moment you feel most vulnerable without their aid.     

It’s a serious problem but there is a lot you can do to mitigate its effects. In my next post, I’ll tell you how to avoid the jaws of glossophobia.

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Dan Cooney

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.