You’re in very good company if you have the debilitating fear known as glossophobia.
That’s fear of public speaking, for the Latin-challenged among us. But you don’t need to experience speech anxiety to have some reluctance concerning getting up in front of others.
Many of us are comfortable speaking to colleagues or to small groups of people, but dread the idea of presenting to audiences of 200 or 300 (or more). Sometimes the nature of the audience itself—when it includes your boss, for instance—brings on sweaty palms.
Certain high-stakes speaking situations will do it. So will the thought that you’re not as prepared as you’d like to be.
The Widespread Nature of Speaking Reluctance
Between 70 and 75 percent of Americans report a fear of public speaking. As of the last official census on April 1, 2010, the population of the United States was 308,745,538. If one out of every ten speech fright sufferers experiencers truly serious speaking anxiety, that adds up to nearly 22,000,000 Americans with this problem.
That’s twenty-two million.
And then there’s the rest of the world.
Now consider what is mentioned above: that not every speaker has out-and-out anxiety, but many of us experience dread, nervousness, or some other form of reluctance to speak in public. Yet giving talks, lectures, presentations, and contributing at meetings—and increasingly, delivering online presentations—has advantages that other forms of communication simply can’t match.
A World of Speaking Influence
To begin with, nothing equals the dynamic of a speaker talking to an audience for sheer efficiency. Consider that audience of 200: the speaker who addresses that group basically has the choice between that one presentation or 200 individual conversations!
Look around you in the world of business today and you’ll realize there’s another powerful tool at your disposal: the world of virtual or remote presentations. Increasingly, you will either be participating in webinars, videoconferences, podcasts, and videos—or you will be delivering them.
The global nature of these speaking venues and the audiences reached brings about the realization of just how big a world of speaking influence exists for you and me. So if you have hesitations about talking to these audiences, you need more urgently than ever to try and put those feelings to rest.
Your Mission—and Please Accept It
As of today, then, you have a specific mission as a speaker and presenter. Most formal presentations across the globe continue to range from mediocre to painful. It’s your job and mine in our small but meaningful way to change that situation for the better.
Even after many years as a singer, actor, professor, presentation coach, and speech consultant, I remain in awe of the difference an outstanding talk or lecture can make in people’s lives. Public speaking remains one of the most exciting experiences in modern society—with real influence occurring daily when one human being speaks with knowledge, charisma, and passion to an interested audience. In a pair of words: to do so with enjoyment and mindfulness.
What that often includes is a changing of thoughts, feelings, and actions that simply cannot be reproduced in any other way.
You give speeches to influence people, and the best way to do so is with your full humanity on display. To understand this opportunity—and not to treat a speech as a pro forma exercise in information delivery, or something to be endured—is to become enlivened and energized about speaking in public. In few other ways are you allowed to affect other people’s thoughts and behavior so profoundly.
 Karen Kangas Dwyer, Conquer Your Speechfright (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 3-12, citing McCroskey, 1993; and Richmond & McCroskey, 1995.
 http://2010.census.gov/news/releases/operations/cb10-cn93.html. Accessed March 2, 2011.