By appointment, Monday-Thursday

Sweaty Palms


If you’ve read the opening page sidebar on this blog, you know our writing process. Dr. Rick generates topics and roughs an outline and I (Debi) write a draft. The teamwork cycle commences:  researching, editing, rewriting. This week, I’m charging forward on my own.

Researching last week’s topic–social anxiety–I discovered that the fear of public speaking, “glossophobia” is a specific type of social anxiety. This surprised me because I’d never made the connection, and interested me because the notion of making a formal, public speech makes me physically ill. Not thinking of myself as a socially anxious person, I learned that most people who experience fear of public speaking do not experience other forms of social anxiety.

I was a classroom teacher for fifteen years. Early in my career, I replaced anxiety of speaking in the classroom with a love of sharing with my students. Parent/teacher night was a different story. I made note cards, wrote an outline on the board, and printed hand-outs in hopes the parents would look at the materials instead of me. I once turned down a rare opportunity to travel to a conference, represent my school, learn cutting-edge classroom strategies, and meet energetic teachers from around the country because, following the meeting, I was expected to make a presentation in front of my peers.  The fear of speaking in front of the entire staff rendered a potentially career-building experience unacceptable.

All forms of social anxiety, including the fear of public speaking, stem from the fear of being judged. This makes perfect sense in my situation. I can’t say that teachers necessarily make the most encouraging or accepting audience and I was unwilling to risk being made fun of for saying something dumb–to the point of losing a valuable opportunity. I realize I’m not alone. Fear of public speaking is identified as the number one fear in North America. Significant, considering the number two fear is death. Remember the famous Jerry Seinfeld quotation?

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~Jerry Seinfeld

The good news is research implies that with practice and preparation, anyone can improve, and resources are plentiful. “Fear of Public Speaking” produced 1,317 results in Amazon Books. Ted Talks offers 8 archived speeches, “Before Speaking in public.” Toastmasters has been recommended to me many times, but to date, I’ve never ventured to a meeting. A mere search of local toastmasters clubs netted three that meet weekly within a five-mile radius of my home . . . and sweaty palms.

I asked Dr. Rick if he knew the fear of public speaking was a form of social anxiety. Silly question. Of course he knew. I asked him if he became nervous before speaking in public. In the past, he has taught classes, led seminars and groups, and has reigned as the designated eulogist/public prayer for his family. Recently, he stepped back into the role of co-facilitator of a workshop, “Leading Change” for Leadership Johnson County. “It had been a long time. I was anxious. I had to diligently work at practicing my techniques for public speaking with confidence. I had a rough start, but I am enjoying it.”

We assume those who successfully speak in public don’t experience anxiousness, but they do. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” ― Mark Twain

Maybe someday, sweaty palms and all, I’ll make it to a Toastmasters meeting. We’ll see.

I have included three links below from my research. Each incorporates simplified “steps to success” for public speaking.

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