By Steve Sisgold
Are you a Glossophobic?
Weeeeeell, would you prefer to walk on hot coals instead of speak to a group?
Many surveys have revealed that above the fear of death and disease is the fear of standing in front of a crowd. Millions of people are terrified of the spotlight, whether it’s speaking to a large crowd with a microphone or at a dinner table of four.
I recently attended a convention for public speakers and actually learned that there is a word for being afraid to speak to a group.
It’s called glossophobia, which comes from the Greek glōssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, which means fear or dread. If you have anxiety prior to (or simply at the thought of) having to verbally communicate with any group, then you may just be a glossophobic.
Just what you need, another label, huh?
How come some people can’t wait to get up in front of a crowd and others would prefer to walk on hot coals rather than speak?
My experience as a coach, trainer and speaker has shown me that even one uncomfortable past experience of being rejected, shamed or scolded when you have spoken out can make you a glossophobic.
For instance, one experience like being laughed at by classmates during show and tell can have a high-voltage emotional impact on a child. The unprocessed emotional residue from this event remains in the body as somatic memory, emotional stress, energy blocks and physical tension and can influence a person on many levels by establishing patterns of thinking and/or behavior that persist. In this way, past trauma gets superimposed on the present and is subliminally re-experienced over and over again.
I coined the term “viral beliefs” to drive this point home. Viral beliefs are similar in many ways to the parasitic viruses that inhabit and occasionally sicken your body. They can be extremely poisonous, and they can lay dormant until some external factor or emotional trigger causes them to become active again.
One client told me when he was invited to speak at his company banquet, he broke out in a cold sweat.
When we went deeper into his body memory it reminded him of when he was humiliated by an uncle who told him, “Don’t choose sales or speaking as a career,” when the boy spoke up at a large family gathering.
The incident infected the boy with a viral belief that held: “If I speak up, I’ll get criticized!” This thought got absorbed into his subjective reality and became defining for him. As an adult he had tremendous difficulty whenever he was required to present his ideas to a committee or group.
It is the emotional impact of such experiences that causes phobias like glossophobia to take up residence in our body-mind as beliefs about the world and our place in it. Such limiting beliefs grow and mature with us. When we face similar challenges later, the virus becomes active and dictates how we think, feel, and behave. Incident after incident in childhood transfers these messages to us at defining moments.
Another client traced her fear of public speaking back to the first time she stood up in grammar school: Her blouse was unbuttoned and the entire class laughed at her. The simple act of standing in front of people triggers that fear and shame and activates her viral belief: “I’m terrified of getting up in front of people because they may laugh at me.”
The Chinese use the term paper tiger to describe when a past fear shows itself as scary now, even if there is no danger in the present.
If you are afraid but want to speak publicly and believe it might help you socially or in your career, I suggest taking this paper tiger head on and joining your local Toastmasters, rotary club, or even take an acting class. Over time, and with a supportive audience, you can replace your past negative experiences with new positive ones, which can keep the illusionary paper tiger from biting you again. Even though you may have had a single or repeated bad experience of speaking in front of others, with practice, counseling and new evidence, I believe you can potentially turn this phobia around.
Steve Sisgold coaches business leaders on how to enhance their leadership skills through self-awareness. Steve owned and directed a successful advertising and PR firm and was the No. 1 salesman out of 500 at Konica Corporation for six years. You can e-mail Steve at email@example.com.
Originally published: Aug 31, 2011