Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Matter of Speaking

I have a horrible aversion to public speaking. I would even say that the aversion borders on pathological. But, as I am discovering throughout this graduate program, public speaking appears to be an essential component of being a successful graduate student, researcher, and educator. No surprise there, I guess.

I've heard that public speaking rates higher than death on people's list of fears (Wallace, Wallechinsky, & Wallace, 1983). And people have advised me on all sorts of different ways to beat that fear of public speaking. My favorite is to picture your audience naked. Naked, huh? Yikes.

So I've decided to take the bull by the horns and do a crash course on public speaking. I joined a local public speaking/speech group to get over this nerve-wracking, nausea-inducing fear of public speaking. Is it working? Well, I've only done 3 speeches to far and surprisingly, I think that my nervousness has improved a little bit. But is it because I'm speaking to familiar people now? Is it because I speak in the same location all the time? Is it because I prepare up the whazoo to the point where I can actually run 30 minutes on a treadmill repeating the speech over and over without a mistake? Perhaps all of the above? Regardless, I think it's the exposure. Exposure to our fears, as long as they aren't going to kill you (e.g., I have a fear of sharks, but I'm not about to swimming with a Great White just to get over it), can help you get more comfortable with that fear. And, if you experience successes in overcoming that fear (e.g., completing 3 speeches without passing out, puking on your audience, or running screaming from the room), that also contributes to decreasing anxiety related to that fear.

I suppose the true test will be to give a paper or podium presentation at a research conference. In the meantime, I'll sign up for more speeches, get as much exposure as possible, so I can start re-dressing the members of my audience.

Wallace, A. Wallechinsky, D. & Wallace, I.  (1983).  The Book of Lists. New York, NY: Morrow Books.

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