Combating the Fear of Public Speaking

Posted by on Jul 4, 2019 in PR | No Comments

The fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is as pervasive among media professionals as it is the general populace. While we all may fear rejection and the possibility of being ridiculed by strangers, public speaking remains an essential skill in the professional media setting. Over the past decade, I forced myself (and was forced) to speak before large audiences as a professor, a radio co-host, and as the Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) at select media events. I utilize and recommend the “RWP” method of researching pertinent subject matter, writing out questions, and practicing them out-loud before any event. This alleviates immense angst and helps you problem-solve ahead of time before any verbal exchange takes place.

The thought of speaking publicly is a nightmare for a huge swath of the population. Even seasoned media professionals are affected.

I was recently asked by the Asia Society Switzerland to co-host a morning talk with Mr. Boon Hui Tan, the VP for Global Arts and Cultural Programs and the Director of Asia Society Museum, on Art Basel and the contemporary art scene in Asia. When formulating questions and topics of discussion with an expert, I knew considerable research would be required. There’s no way around this — the more research you conduct, the more well-rounded the conversation and the elicited answers will be. I looked up information on Tan’s background, read prior interviews, and I even watched YouTube videos of public talks he had given to get a feel for his passion and personality.

“Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.” ― Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BCE-c. 7 BCE).

Although the setting of our talk was to be small and intimate — only 30 guests were to be in attendance — I knew prominent members of Zürich’s research, arts and culture, and financial sectors would watch me with a critical eye. I thus began preparing my questions a week beforehand. I did this to not only practice my questions out loud ahead of time, but as a courtesy to the organization facilitating my talk. (I naturally sent my questions to Curator Tan as well. One shouldn’t think of that as a courtesy — this is a common media practice.) I advise my clients and colleagues to begin composing their questions at least a week in advance of any engagement. I also warn my clients that if their engagement is long in duration — over an hour — it’s useful to start writing out questions upwards of 10 days in advance.

My conversation with Director Boon Hui Tan at an Asia Society Switzerland event (12/06/2019).

Although cliché, practice makes perfect, and working under pressure only adds to one’s anxiety and stress. I practiced my questions out loud in the three days leading up to my public speaking engagement with the Asia Society. This helped me further revise my questions and address missing variables in my chain of thought. I was prepared and not nervous in the least when I arrived at the Asia Society’s offices last month. My talk with Curator Tan went very well, and we both had amazing rapport. The setting was cozy and casual, and I was at complete ease in my surroundings and relying the topics at hand. After my talk, several members of the audience came up to me and commented on my excellent questions and calm demeanor. The “RWP” method hasn’t failed me yet!

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