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Living with Severe Public Speaking Phobia

Updated: May 5, 2021

Below is an interview conducted by McLuhan & Davies on how to better prepare for a presentation. Fuse is an accredited facilitator of McLuhan & Davies' business communications workshops.

We sat down with two young professionals for an exclusive interview on what it’s like living with severe public speaking phobia. Caitlin Molony and Cristina Almudevar live and work in Toronto and suffer from glossophobia (fear of public speaking). They agreed to speak with MDC and discuss some of the emotions, anxiety, and physical limitations that this condition can have on an individual. - By Ashley Denuzzo


“Public speaking anxiety doesn’t just begin on the day you have to present; it starts the moment you learn you have to make a presentation.”

These words weren’t said by a public speaking professional. They weren’t said by a motivational speaker, a coach, or a psychologist. These words came from Caitlin Molony, a young professional who has suffered from a severe fear of public speaking for over seven years.

According to Caitlin, anxiety that comes from public speaking gets progressively worse as the days lead up to your presentation.

“That day I basically just want to throw up,” she said. “When I present my voice shakes.”

“It takes everything in me not to run out of the room crying.”

Caitlin is not alone in this. Approximately 74 percent of the world suffers from speech anxiety and it remains the number one human fear– it’s even higher than death, sickness, heights, or financial problems.

The exact cause of glossophobia – the fear of public speaking – varies among individual cases. Although it is widely agreed upon by health care professionals that social phobias begin with shyness in childhood.

It is also believed that certain traumatic events might have affected patients at some point in their lives, which may make speaking in public a fearful notion.

For Caitlin, that started in high school when she was bullied so severely that she had to switch schools.

“I was never that nervous but coming into a school where I didn’t know anyone and having to speak is pretty intimidating,” she said.

Glossophobia may also develop if a person suffers from low self-esteem, constantly seeks approval from others, believes in perfection, has mental health issues, or fears failure.

“I don’t remember when it first started,” said Cristina Almudevar, another professional who suffers from public speaking phobia. “I remember feeling uncomfortable in high school during presentations but it’s gotten progressively worse as I’ve gotten older.”

According to speech coaches, one of the top reasons speakers struggle with stage fright is self-consciousness in front of large groups and audiences. It is very common for individuals to feel comfortable with small groups, but it’s an entirely different story with large ones.

As the crowd grows, so does the anxiety.

“I once had a panic attack during a presentation,” Almudevar said. “I was scheduled to speak last which gave me plenty of time to freak myself out.”

“I couldn’t remember what I had to talk about,” she continued.

“I just knew I needed to get off stage.”

Some of the most common fears during a presentation are:

  • Voice shaking, mumbling, and stuttering

  • Forgetting what you are going to say

  • Experiencing technical glitches during the presentation

  • Having hecklers in the audience

  • Audience is unengaged and bored

  • Audience misses your point and doesn’t enjoy your presentation

  • People judging you or thinking you are unqualified

  • Speaking for too long or too short

  • Someone asks a question during Q&A that you can’t answer

  • Profuse sweating or poor body language

While the fear of public speaking is common, it can also pose a huge threat to your career. Many professions require some form of public speaking and presentation abilities, whether that means leading a meeting, speaking at a conference, accepting an award or accolade, or pitching an idea or product to an investor, client, or manager.

When fear or anxiety plays a large role in your presentation, it prevents you from sharing your ideas and expressing your personality. This hinders your ability to speak up in meetings, keeps you from networking and building new relationships and it refrains you from being able to teach, influence, and motivate.

So what’s holding you back?

“Coaching would be most helpful,” Molony said. “Or even just some useful activities to help with the skills.”

Successful presentations don’t happen by accident. They are the result of careful planning, practice, and structure. Get your mind in gear before your put your mouth in motion.

This includes structuring your thoughts, focusing on your performing skills, and re-purposing your nervousness into positive energy.

All presenters feel more nervous than they appear to the audience. It’s just a matter of convincing yourself that you are capable of greatness.

“To overcome public speaking anxiety, I am practicing a lot,” Molony said.

“The more you present, the less nervous you become.”

Almudevar is also taking the right steps towards overcoming her public speaking anxiety. Her advice is to have an open discourse with her audience, slow down, and over-prepare for the presentation.

Our tips for becoming The Skilled Presenter™:

  • Plan your presentation using a three-part structure

  • Vary your voice dynamics

  • Improve your articulation

  • Slow down

  • Tell stories

  • Lighten up with humor

  • Stand tall and move with purpose

  • Involve your audience to break barriers

  • Speak with clarity, brevity and impact®

You have the power to present with poise, by utilizing patience, practice, and proficiency.

The Skilled Presenter is arguably the most effective presentation skills workshop. With unique audience assessment tools, small group sizes, and one-on-one coaching, your next presentation will surely be remembered.

Tracy Graf, Fuse CEO, is a Training Facilitator and Communication Coach. She will be delivering the June 22-23 The Skilled Presenter™ virtual-live workshop. Join us!

For additional communication tips, read our blog: Three Storytelling Tips Successful Leaders Must Know.

Want more tips for communicating like a leader?

Contact Fuse today about workshops that help you drive results!

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