Public Speaking Sucks, But Why?

Barneys on a rainy, Sunday afternoon? Sounds great right? It was, until I wandered into a panel on the 6th floor featuring Greg Lauren, Guillermo Andrade of 424, Samuel Ross of A-COLD-WALL* and the buyer of developing designers at Barneys itself. When I say “wandered,” I mean I had no idea that this panel was going to be happening. I simply wanted to check out the A-COLD-WALL* capsule collection that had been released alongside 29 others for what Barney’s was calling “the Drop,” betch. It was casual until it wasn’t.

“Any questions from the audience?” asked Jian DeLeon, High Snobiety’s editorial director. My boyfriend standing to my right (who didn’t really give two shits about fashion,) nudged me. Ugh he was totally right. Samuel f*cking Ross was sitting 15 feet away from me wearing ice blue-tinted glasses and I had nothing to say even though I was wearing an ACW* hoodie? I began to viciously pick my brain, sorting visually through the list of questions in the white moleskine notebook that lay helplessly on my night stand at home. I was drawing blanks and my stomach already began to twist itself into a knot. Public speaking had never been my thing, but why did it have to suck so much?

The scientific term for the fear of public speaking is Glossophobia and plagues 28.4% of the adults in the United States according to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. To put that into perspective, only 8.5% of American adults are afraid of zombies, making it a rather rational fear if we can call it that. Everyone perhaps has their own reasons for the ensuing anxiety, but for me, it seemed rather unexplainable on the surface; after all, so much of my job as a writer involved interviewing people and telling their stories. But if I dug a little deeper into my psyche, I realize that this fear had intensified after every unideal moment under the spotlight.

Being in a modern dance class during my time in college was probably my last big “fail” in front of an audience. For the class’ final exam, I was relieved that there would be no 12-page paper and instead all we had was one, little solo performance. I had my moves sorted out, I would be dancing to Little Dragon’s Twice and that would be that. I would waltz out of there like hello, summer break. But nope, not quite. During my presentation I totally forgot everything I had choreographed and ended up freestyling for two minutes, let’s put it this way, I did not get an A on that exam. Since then, everything from small meetings amongst co-workers in the office, to panels in Barney’s have set me off. I wanted to reiterate by saying that one on one situations give me no problem. Heck, a coworker and I had to interview Angela Missoni and we were fine, actually more than fine, we made her cry with one of our questions (in a good way, come on).

The issue then with public-speaking becomes a matter of self-perception and confidence. Snapping back to Barney’s when Jian mused, “Any last questions from the audience?” and I found my hand in the air. Not because I wanted to ask a question necessarily, but more so because I felt like I had to, because I knew I could. Before I realized what was going on, I was sweating, my forehead felt like it was on fire and a mic was being passed my way. Did I gulp? I think I did. “You guys are talking a lot about communication but I’m also wondering who you’re listening to? Where you’re getting your news from? Who you’re inspired by?” MIC DROP! The sweat had now beaded heavily around my hairline and I could feel the eyes of the crowd crawling over my skin. But I DID IT! My boyfriend gave me a shocked side-eye followed by another nudge, this time congratulatory. “I think that’s a good question but it needs to be broken down a bit,” said Samuel Ross peering over towards me. WHAAAAAT. WUUUUT.

So in that five minute window what exactly happened? Well to tell you the truth, I trusted myself, knowing that I could do it, that I wouldn’t have another opportunity and that I would be more upset than happy if I had just stuck my neck out. Almost every article addressing Glossophobia advises you to find a “safe place” to practice, to “fake it until you make it,” or to “speak from the heart,” “picturing yourself as a winner.” It all sounds cliche but that’s because it is: Self-perception translates outwards. I wish I had something more profound to say but perhaps all I can do is round up the most valid advice I glossed over:

  1. Nail the beginning and the end
  2. “You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business,” – Allison Shapira, founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking
  3. “MARK TWAIN SAID IT BEST: ‘IT USUALLY TAKES ME MORE THAN THREE WEEKS TO PREPARE A GOOD IMPROMPTU SPEECH.’”-Gary Schmidt, Past International President of Toastmasters International

So whether it’s chatting up a stranger at a bar, stumbling into a panel in a luxury department store and asking a question or speaking up in your team’s weekly meeting, put that big mouth to the test, pipe down for no one and nothing.


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