I have glossophobia.

Via on Mar 11, 2011

It could be fatal.

Photo: flickr.com | Lissi Elle

This is why I’m a writer…I have no problem putting myself out there for people when I don’t have to stand up in front of them.

The word glossophobia comes from the Greek glōssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, fear or dread.

I’m not alone. In fact, some experts estimate that as much as 75% of the population has some level of public speaking anxiety. It ranks higher in most people’s minds than the fear of death.

In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. ~ Jerry Seinfeld

I had recently been asked to speak at SodaStreams’s booth at the International Housewares show—just a 5 to 7 minute thing about inspiring kids to go green. While speaking in front of groups is something I would compare to waterboarding (only worse), I accepted the challenge. The cash carrot they dangled in front of me was not something I could easily refuse—my husband has been unemployed since Dec ’08, and my biz is in the red.

I wrote down what I was going to say, which came naturally. I’m a writer, afterall. Toss in a few visuals, a couple of quotes and I was good to go. Life preserver script in hand.

Throughout the entire process, right up to the last moment before I had to speak, I worked at being present in each moment and not worrying. There wasn’t any clear idea how many people would be there listening. Could be 20. Possibly more. People wandering around other exhibits may drop in at any moment if they felt so inclined.

Susan Sarandon was a speaker at that very booth the day before. No pressure. She’s just a person like the rest of us, I told myself.

The morning of, I did yoga and felt pretty centered. Had the music blasting in the Jeep on my way downtown, unwittingly canceling the effects of Om. I got there early enough to review my notes and tell myself I was going to be fine.

photo: flickr.com

My time had come. I had to climb two steps to the podium. The lights were harsh and unnatural, and boy was it hot! We don’t turn on a lot of lights in my household and I’m never hot—accustomed to hanging around my house with long underwear and an afghan.

I tested the temporary wall behind me for support—hoping I could lean against it instead of relying on my legs to hold me up. But what if the whole wall toppled over—not built to support the weight of a human—killing the product demonstrators on the other side? Did I want to live with that tragedy for the rest of my life for the sake of diminishing my nerves?

The fear-of-public speaking symptoms—which include but are not limited to cotton mouth, shortness of breath, unpredictable trembling, the feeling of impending doom, inability to speak—rushed forth like a tsunami, mocking my efforts to deny their existence.

After a brief introduction that seemed to last forever as I stood up there on display, the mic was turned over to me. A mic I had to hold in my hand. I grabbed it and said, “Thank you so much for having me here today.” And for some unknown reason I added,

“I’ll be here all night.”

Awkwardly, I stumbled into my presentation, the so-called life saver script in one hand, mike in the other. Of course, my hands began to tremble. And there were only about five people in the audience! What’s the big deal, I asked myself. Do five people even qualify as an audience? The more I noticed my trembling hands, the more they trembled. I willed them to stop. They trembled more. The paper (recycled, thank you) could have been hummingbird wings. I’m surprised the mike didn’t become a projectile and hit someone between the eyes.

This panic had happened before. Many times. Any time I had to speak in front of people. I just thought maybe this time would be different.

Apparently, I have the acute version of glossophobia. That means my anxiety only gets worse the further into my presentation I go. And when I’m done? The anxiety accelerates even more!

I was somewhat encouraged by the smiles in the audience. Until I started to wonder if they were genuine. Could they be smiling because they loved the story that somehow found its way off my tongue or because they felt sorry for me? Were they on the edge of their seats, ready to jump up and administer CPR? On the positive, there were no frowning, disapproving smiles. I’ve seen those before.

The moment to escape from the small stage came sooner than I expected, but I didn’t stop talking after I stepped down. I just babbled to anyone who would listen that I was glad that was over and I hate public speaking and blah blah blah. Some sympathized with me, claiming they’re no good at public speaking either.

It wasn’t over. They wanted a quick interview for their streaming YouTube video. Great. If there’s one thing I hate more than public speaking, it’s being on video. Even when it’s with my own family!

I was instructed to go over the highlights of my presentation…and I froze. Doh! What the hell was I to say? The kind young woman behind the small video camera started prompting me. But I was useless.

I had no problem thinking out loud, though, hearing myself say things like “I’m just terrible at this kind of stuff!” and “Now I know why celebs start taking drugs.” and “I really just don’t know what to say–my mind is blank.” and “I really suck at being filmed.” … spewing on and on about my neurosis.

She’d attempt to get me back on track (not that I was ever on one). Was that a white light I saw?

Finally, it was over. Over. They could use that footage to blackmail me one day.

On the drive home, I called and pleaded with them not to put my interview up on YouTube anticipating how horrifying it would be. Here’s how it turned out.

YouTube Preview Image

What must have been hours of editing magic gave the illusion that I could actually string more than two words together.

This is why I’m a writer. I can hide. Behind my computer. It’s safe. I have no problem putting myself out there for people when I don’t have to stand up in front of them.  If I ever write a novel, which of course everyone and their brother hopes to do one day, and it becomes a hit, I will be known as the reclusive novelist who rarely, if ever, gives interviews, much less breaks out of her zip code.

Next time—yes, I’m afraid there could be a next time—I will try again.

About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger lives in Chicagoland with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate, and NYR, and has a voracious appetite for comedy. In her spare time, she blogs at myEARTH360.com and LynnHasselberger.com. A "Green Diva" and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr & @myEARTH360) and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.

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36 Responses to “I have glossophobia.”

  1. Great blog, Lynn. The video proves that your fear is groundless. You are engaging and articulate as a public speaker.

    But of course, fears are fears! They don't necessarily to respond to proof of the contrary!

    Bob

  2. Shelly says:

    Wow, this brought back some memories! Describes my experience with public speaking in school exactly! I had to take over a year off from college just to recover from public speaking class, and when I went back I was so terrified I would run into someone from that class that witnessed my humiliation.

    Just watching this video makes me feel better, seeing that it is possible to feel that panicky and still behave normally. I would not have even been aware that you were nervous. That is what people always told me too, but I assumed they were lying because they felt sorry for me. Luckily, I don't have to do public speaking at my job! Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  3. cynthia says:

    I felt exactly the same way the 3 or 4 times i had to say something in front of an auditorium full of parents and kids. You did good though, really!!!

  4. jellybeanz says:

    You really did not look nervous at all!
    The unthinkable happened to me when I got so nervous during reading a paper, I couldn't catch my breath to speak and handed the rest of my paper to the left for another student to read; SUPER FAIL! When I am in a new seminar or class and the speaker says "now were going to go around the room and introduce yourself" I instantly go into a flight or fight mode. I was told the more you do it, the easier it gets.
    Kudos to you for agreeing to speak! The phobia is more common than we think

    • Thanks, jellybeanz! Hope you're right about the more you do, the easier it gets. There may be some who wouldn't admit they had a problem so it's probably more than 75% who fear public speaking. ~Cheers

  5. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Ahh, thanks for making me almost pee my pants with laughter Lynn.
    Yes, I know it's not nice to laugh at someone else's expense, but… LOL. You wrote this very humorously indeed. Good to see you can put it in perspective and laugh at *yourself*.
    I've healed clients of this issue – it's true what you said at the start of the post about more people fearing public speaking than death. Usually, what's behind it is the fear of being JUDGED. Which explains why speaking in front of kids is easier – they don't judge!!
    With love, Ben

  6. Marylee Fairbanks Marylee says:

    This is so funny. Everyone knows that dry mouthed terror!
    Someone told me this once and it helped
    When you feel nervous infront of an audience it is because you are worried about your own experience. If you shift the focus to the experience that the audience will receive it gets much easier.
    I found it to be true. Hope it works for you too!

  7. Bodil says:

    The technique EFT can help you – or anyone – overcome this fear. EFT is based on the assumption that any problem we have, on a emotional or physical level is caused by a disruption in the body's energy system. By using light tapping on points on the meridian while tuning into the issue, it can be resolved – often very very quickly!

  8. Melinda Matthews Melinda says:

    This is me! I laughed, but oh, how I related, too.

  9. Heather says:

    I have been plagued with the same debilitating fear for most of my life. My husband doesn't get it. He can speak in front of thousands. Most people tell me I am a great speaker, but the anticipation can be the worst part for me. I think the problem for me is I build up such a drama in my mind of how it's going to go, that I condemn myself to suffer time and time again.

    I noticed you do what I used to do –have a great deal of negative "self-talk" and self-doubt. It seems like you are comfortable in this story that you have created about yourself being bad at public speaking. The more that you reaffirm this to be true, the more it will be real.

    Positive affirmations helped me so much in my journey to be more comfortable with speaking in public. If you keep telling yourself and others how much you suck at it, you will continue to believe it. Make it a point to tell yourself you are comfortable and at ease speaking in front of others. If you feel that others are always judging you, tell yourself that people are supportive and good. For me, I judge others alot, so I focus on not doing this, so I do not feel I am being judged by others.

    Lastly, and very important. If you ever have to speak in public again, get a beta blocker. These work wonders for people with fear of public speaking. It basically blocks the adrenaline from your body and allows you to be relaxed without feeling stoned or drowsy. It keeps the heart rate slow and rhythmic and you will just feel calm. I use these during times of great stress, especially during public speaking!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Good to know about the beta blocker. Any recommendations? You are absolutely right about the self-talk/doubt. Leading up to it, though, I work hard at telling myself I can do it with a few rah-rahs mixed in. But my unsure self obviously just takes over when I'm actually up there. I'm not going to give up, though. So many great suggestions! ~Cheers

  10. Joe Sparks says:

    You are a brave, courageous, lovely, smart, kind and caring women. I admire you for going against your fears, facing them no matter what. Just, don't believe any of that negative self-talk in your head. You have an amazing voice, and a magnificent mind that has something important to share with the world. Sorry, it is hard on you. I hope you get a chance to use this experience to continue overcoming your fears. Knowing what you know and not sharing it with the world would be a loss for all of us. Please continue on this path, next time you speak, bring an ally for support, somebody who is totally pleased with you!
    Toastmasters is a public speaking organization that is a very safe, nurturing environment that has helped thousands of people learn to overcome their fears of speaking. It is the best $90 I ever spent. The cost of a 1 year membership. You can go to as many clubs in your town for free. It is a place where you can show yourself, and get an opportunity to work on those early embarrassments and humilations we all carry! You are not alone.

    • Thanks, Joe. Appreciate your kind comments. It's crazy how my self-talk prior to stepping in front of folks is all positive and once I'm up there BAM these negative feelings + thoughts take over. Sounds like Toastmasters is worth a shot. Cheers!

  11. Laura says:

    Thanks for being so honest about this very recognizable fear! But you look very natural and calm on the video, you sound very eloquent and passionate. Also, I love your message. I love how you say in the beginning how your son understood that he could make a difference as an individual, and how that got the ball rolling. So, my point is "Don't listen to that nasty ego that tries to keep your beautiful spirit small!!"

  12. [...] I was exceptionally honoured last week to be the guest speaker for the Tarot Guild of Aotearoa. The Guild meets once a month and there is always an interesting presentation given by men and women who have a fascinating history of tarot work and depth knowledge. So when Fern asked me to present I was really, really honoured, even though my biggest fear is speaking in public. Seriously, I cannot even explain how big this fear is. I’m talking colossal, gigantic waves of panic and fear that go through me when I have to do this kind of stuff. It started in high school – actually, it started before then when I was a school kid in Romania, and you had to stand up in front of the class and be questioned by the teacher on the day’s lessons. It goes way back, and it has only escalated as I’ve gotten older, to the point that even sitting in a small group of people and having to introduce myself gives me a panic attack. Heck, someone has even given this thing a name. [...]

  13. [...] for one thing. I am terrified of public speaking. I am terrified, in many ways, of just speaking, even in small groups. I am painfully shy. [...]

  14. [...] onto the ones that have required me to open a vein or two: the first visit with my brother; my fear of speaking; the pain of infertility; my husband’s affair; struggles with what I wear; getting older; [...]

  15. [...] Currently in 4th place for a #green Shorty Award (you can nominate her through February 20th), Lynn lives in the Chicago ‘burbs with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, eating chocolate, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order), and comedy. The founder of myEARTH360.com–an eco-commerce company that has yet to break even–Lynn also writes for her blogs I Count for myEARTH and Putting It Out There. An environmental advocate + social media addict, you’ll most likely find her tweeting (@LynnHasselbrgr + @myEARTH360) or posting on facebook. She hopes to make the planet a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. [...]

  16. [...] Lynn Hasselberger lives in the Chicago ‘burbs with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, eating chocolate, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order), and comedy. The founder of myEARTH360.com–an eco-commerce company that has yet to break even–Lynn also writes for her blogs I Count for myEARTH and Putting It Out There. An environmental advocate + social media addict, you’ll most likely find her tweeting (@LynnHasselbrgr + @myEARTH360) or posting on facebook. She hopes to make the planet a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. [...]

  17. [...] Lynn Hasselbergerlives in the Chicago 'burbs with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, eating chocolate, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order). The founder of myEARTH360.com–an eco-commerce company that has yet to break even–Lynn also writes for her I Count for myEARTH blog and other eco-focused online publications. A social media addict, you'll most likely find her tweeting (@LynnHasselbrgr + myEARTH360) or posting on facebook. She hopes to make the planet a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. [...]

  18. [...] Lynn Hasselberger lives in the Chicago suburbs with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, eating chocolate, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order). The founder of myEARTH360.com–an eco-commerce company that has yet to break even–Lynn also writes for her I Count for myEARTH blog and other eco-focused online publications. A social media addict, you'll most likely find her tweeting (@LynnHasselbrgr + myEARTH360) or posting on facebook. She hopes to make the planet a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. [...]

  19. [...] over what a shitastic job I’d just done. The fear then sunk in that I’d never be able to handle public speaking, which was a legitimate concern as with my forthcoming book being published next year, I’ll be [...]

  20. [...] putting words to paper is something I do much better than using my mouth to speak aloud—people seem to understand me better when I write. If I didn’t write, would I even [...]

  21. [...] personalities are much better at writing than speaking. That’s why I began writing several years ago. Because if I were to meet you for coffee I’d [...]

  22. Thanks Erin! I'm good with the under 10 crowd also, as long as there aren't any other adults around :) I think I'd also be okay if I was invisible and anonymous!

  23. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Vince. I will not jump out of a plane. I've held small spiders to put them outdoors–does that count?

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