Glossophobia : Fear Of Public Speaking

Sunday Mindgames

– P. Shivanand*

Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking, is a very common phobia and one that is believed to affect up to 75% of the population. Some individuals may feel a slight nervousness at the very thought of public speaking, while others experience full-on panic and fear. They may try to avoid public speaking situations at all cost or if they must speak in public, they endure shaking hands and a weak, quavering voice. How to overcome a fear of public speaking? With persistence and preparation, it’s entirely possible to beat Glossophobia- Rosemary Black.

I had developed a mortal fear of public speaking since November 14, 1960…I was just 9 years of age. It was ‘children’s day’ a program which was happening in Sindri near Dhanbad. I was dressed like Chacha Nehru and was also the MC of the program. Yet another task for me was to ‘deliver’ a memorized the “Tryst with destiny” speech. You can predict what must have happened on that day…yes, I forgot the wordings and kept repeating the word “AUR” (and, in English) like a broken record for over 2 to 3 times. After that, the 1500 odd members of the audience (mostly adults) kept chanting, with me “AUR” for a few minutes. This shattered me completely. The organizers prompted me from behind and I managed to complete the speech and run off the stage. I did make a fool of myself and it left a deep scar.

There were many more occasions of repeated failures…fast forward to the fateful All Fools Day of April 01 1978, I was required (obliged actually) to give a speech at the Convention Hall of Hotel Hilton in Delaware, USA.

The time was 9.30 pm after cocktails and Banquet; I was the 6th and final speaker as an ambassador of goodwill. (This was a part of the Group Study Exchange program of Rotary International). The National and International TV Channels were in full attendance to possibly witness me making a royal fool of myself internationally!

I stood behind the podium on the main dais, could barely manage to stick my head over the top (I am 5’4.5”above the ground) and prayed like never before!

I raised both my hands in a folded Namaste and said “NAMASTE”…the traditional Indian greetings and kept quiet, had to because there was a deafening applause. It stuck me that Namaste is a magic word – so I quickly added to my original Namaste and said “I add the Namaste of my mother and that of my wife and other family members”. Each got me applause (a sound that was like magic). So I finally added the “Namaste of my 21 day old baby boy”…this got me a standing ovation…me a standing ovation!!

I stepped from behind the podium and said very honestly to the audience that I can’t speak from a dais – which is impersonal and makes me far from the audience; that I would be delighted to speak one on one and interact at a personal level. Thanked them for their hospitality also for appreciating and encouraging me.

On my return to my seat at the allotted Banquet Table, a nice elderly person walked up to me and patted my back and said “son I know what you were going through, glad you came out of it alive!!” Before leaving, he handed me a hotel Napkin (serviette) and finally said ‘this is for you, when you can decipher the code which is written there for you, you will be great orator, God Bless you and your son” I still have it with me, all it said was “SU-SU- SD”

Fast forward again, in 1983 my wife Mukta (30) and I (33) Co-Founded a Management Consulting company in Bangalore called Accord Consultants Private Limited. In doing so we literally became the mother and father of professional consulting in India. In 1986 we realized that Soft Skills training was our core competence and we were really good at it because we facilitated and did not train or teach. We strongly believed in experiential learning which was entirely customized. Accord became an instant success thereafter and made us an All India also an International Organization.

In 1989 a very big Public Sector client of ours approached me to conduct a Public Speaking program for their executives. I thanked them profusely but flatly refused saying that I am not good enough to facilitate this program because of my own past hang-ups and inherent fear of failure.

They insisted as they had seen both Mukta and me in action as facilitators in various programs. Perhaps they knew our capacities better than us! They persisted and asked us to do a few trial runs and then take the final call.

We have personally facilitated the development of Industry Leaders (2 of the 5 Co-Founders of Infosys); District Governors; President Elects of Rotary, Lions, Round Tablers, Principals and Teaching faculties of large number of colleges in India and abroad. We have touched and impacted the self-development of more than 500,000 persons in India and abroad.

So you think this article was about blowing my trumpet? Think again and deeply…The title is Fear of Public Speaking

So what had changed over the 50 years, what was the secret mantra in the code “SU-SU- SD”?

Any guesses?

I had finally understood that Public Speaking was not for me, but I was always good at Speaking in Public!

All I had to do was speak as naturally as I normally did, avoid jargons /clichés of which I know a damn, KISS formula…keep it simple stupid and always ask yourself what is in it for them?

By then it had dawned on me that Speaking in Public is all about:

  • Stand up to be seen (posture, gestures, expression, eye contact…body language)
  • Speak up to be heard (voice and its modulation)
  • Reach out to be felt (from your heart to their soul)
  • Communicate to be understood (avoid misunderstandings; meaning are in people not in words!)
  • Sit down to be appreciated

My school – Scindia School Gwalior, College – Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Post-Graduation XLRI – its learned teachers, outstanding students, visiting dignitaries have made me constantly aware about critically self-evaluating myself, become better each day…this  created a strong foundation for continuous self-development and to continuous evolve as I grew in my life.

Here I have a final story for you…

Once upon a time, long ago, there lived a grand old wise man on a small hillock near a village. His name and fame had spread far and wide for his words of wisdom, compelling guidance and motivation.

In the same village lived a young boy and a girl who did not believe in Soothsayers, Rishis or Munis. They were of the new breed who wanted to challenge the world and swim against the tide. They jointly resolved to ‘show up’ the so called wise man in public and expose him before all!

They climbed the hill and joined the scores of people who had gone there to get the Old man’s words of wisdom. They carried a small sparrow in their hands behind their back. On getting their chance they asked the Old Man…do we have a live bird or a dead bird in our hands? Their intentions was very simple…if the Old man said “dead” they will let the sparrow fly….If he said “live” they will break the bird’s neck and show that it was dead…remember their intention was to “show up” the Old man.

The Wise Old man looked at them smiled with a twinkle in his eyes and said…my son, my daughter whatever will be is in your hands!!!

*P. Shivanand is a renowned management Guru based in Bengaluru. In these columns he would provide professional guidance on self-development topics. Readers can write to him for more consultations. For readers, his  first three consultations would be totally free of cost. 


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