Being able to speak in front of others to deliver information is a critical business skill. You may be called upon to do this at some point in many different professions, or public speaking may be a regular part of your job, or you may be considering public speaking as an independent business venture.

Social phobia vs. Glossophobia vs Introversion

Introversion is a personality type, and preference for solitude, privacy, quiet, deep thinking, observing, listening, and deep connections and attachment with carefully selected others. Introverts, defined by their personality type, do not necessarily have the traits of shyness or timidity, nor are they socially phobic. Social phobes want interaction, connection, and attachment, but their anxiety around social interaction is overwhelming so social situations are avoided (Porter, 2014). This leads to unhappiness, frustration, deterioration of social skills, and dissatisfaction with life. In extreme cases, it can lead to depression, suicide, and substance abuse, as people attempt to dull their anxiety with drugs or alcohol. You could say that an extrovert may be trapped in the body of a social phobe.

Glossohpobia is the fear of public speaking. It is the most common fear, and specifically involves overwhelming anxiety around speaking in front of others (Glossophobia.com., 2015). I recall the difficulty some people had with this in graduate school. One student read her presentation verbatim from a hard copy sheet, which was visibly shaking. Another student stumbled over his words, and then matter of factly announced, “I am getting really dizzy” before he stumbled over. A kind and alert student acted quickly and jumped from his chair and caught him before he hit the floor. Extroverts, who thrive on social interaction, can be glossophobic. They may be the center of attention at a party (with a triple bourbon on the rocks in their hand, the second or third of many) but having to get up in front of 10 or 15 coworkers and deliver a presentation is overwhelming.

Introversion is a personality type, which can have many features reflecting the complexity of the human personality. This can include difficulty speaking in front and a group, though this is the stereotypical misunderstanding of introverts. Some introverts may be glossophobic, but not all glossophobes are introverts.

He just found out that he has to give a presentation in front of 300 people

Here are some ways to deal with discomfort if you need to give a presentation in front of a group:

1. Embrace your introversion and do what comes natural- talk about ideas.

Introverts are deep thinkers. We love learning, knowledge, and ideas, and sharing them enthusiastically and passionately with others. Focus not so much on the audience, but on the material you are presenting, which you have a genuine passion for.

2. Preparation = Confidence (Brian Tracy International, 2015).

If you are ill-prepared to deliver your material, your audience will know it. You don’t want to stumble over your words, omit material, appear distracted, or otherwise lose your audience. This can get you flustered and cause you to make more mistakes. To avoid this:

  • Be an expert. Know the material you are presenting inside-out, upside down, and every which way. Develop expertise and deliver it.
  • Be early. Get to your destination way ahead of time. Grab some breakfast or whatever mealtime it is at a local eatery, explore the town a little if you have never been there, notice something unique or interesting you can insert into the presentation about the town, and get to your meeting place early. Have everything set up, work through the inevitable problems such as too short laptop cords, slow downloads, and who knows what else.
  • Have good visual aids. Keep your power points in a readable font such as Arial, big enough, at least 20 point, and not more than three or four main points per slide. Segue into..

3. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

Don’t overly complicate things and turn your presentation into a dog-and pony show. I have been to terrible presentations,

where the speakers expected mature, educated professional adults to play ridiculous games for experiential learning, or team building, or who knows what the purpose was. I went to training where we were handed a colored rock when we walked in the door, and had to find a table with people with the same color rocks to sit at and “get to know our colleagues”. Seriously? I am an introvert. I will choose who I want to sit with, and who I want to talk to and get to know, thank you very effing much. Unless the average age of your audience is five, keep this stuff to a bare minimum, or better yet, leave it out. A little bit of humor or theatrics is like a drizzle of gravy over the potatoes. It adds some flavor. You don’t want the gravy drowning the potatoes and running off the plate.

4. Diaphragmatic breathing.

Activate your PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) through a deep breathing exercise. The PNS is the branch of our nervous system which slows down our autonomic functions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory functions. Under stress, such as the eyes of 300 people burning into your soul, waiting for you to screw up so they can mock and ridicule you… OK, that is not helping. Anyway, under stress, your autonomic functions will increase- heartrate will go up, respiration increases, sweating increases, and you can feel acutely uncomfortable. You may respond to these signals in what is called a positive feedback loop, and your autonomic arousal can increase further. This process can be arrested and reversed so you are more relaxed. Breathe in through your nose for a three second inhalation, hold it for three seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for three seconds. Repeat as needed. It works amazingly well.

5. Meds if necessary

If none of this works and going to this presentation feels like walking into the lion’s den covered with steak sauce saying “here kitty, kitty”- it might be time for something to take the edge off. One option to talk to your physician about is a beta blocker. Beta blockers, also known as beta adrenergic antagonists, are a class of prescription medications for treating high blood pressure, or an irregular or rapid heart rhythm (Rx List, 2015). They are well tolerated, and can lower autonomic arousal, but leave you alert and clear headed. They are also non-addictive.

Conclusion:

Delivering a well-polished presentation with confidence is a great way to build your professional reputation. It is a skill that every professional should possess. Discomfort with public speaking can be managed, and does not have to hold you back.

By: David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice, Otter Creek Associates
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology, Community College of Vermont & Burlington College
Freelance Behavioral Science writer