You may not be familiar with the term “glossophobia,” but you certainly know what it means: a debilitating fear of public speaking that, according to many, tops all other fears, including death (which assumes you’ll have no presentation duties in the afterlife).
A quick Google search reveals no shortage of suggested remedies, ranging from imagining the audience in their underwear and “visualizing success” to practicing in front of a mirror and memorizing a script. I discourage all of these approaches because they’re useless, counterproductive, or fraught with peril. (What could be more distracting than imagining people in underwear?)
So what works? Let’s start by understanding that presentation anxiety is not actually a fear of public speaking, but of public humiliation – feeling anxious about what people are thinking about you as they watch you. And that covers a lot of ground — you might as well be singing, doing magic tricks, or throwing a baton.
While some tactics do indeed mitigate that insecurity, including familiarizing yourself with the room, rehearsing obsessively, and downing a shot of Tequila, the most effective antidote – the one that strikes closest to the heart of your glossophobia – is a single realization:
It’s not about you. It’s about your point.
The success of a presentation actually has little to do what people think of you. That success doesn't hinge on how white your teeth are, how ironed your blouse us, or even how smart, knowledgeable, or confident you seem.
Instead, it has everything to do with the answer to this question:
Did you successfully deliver your point or not?
That’s the ballgame.
An audience can come away from your presentation thinking you were hysterical, honest, impressive, knowledgeable, self-assured, even charismatic, but if they don’t successfully receive your point, your mission goes unaccomplished. If your goal is to convey your point, what do you gain from someone coming away from you presentation merely thinking you were “a great speaker”? You weren’t there to advertise your qualities; you were there to sell an idea.
This is why I discourage my clients from practicing with mirrors. We are too trained from life experience to look at our reflections and focus predominantly, if not exclusively, on our appearance. Who looks at their reflection in a mirror – or even on video – and thinks, “Am I making my point effectively?” Very few. More often, my clients will complain about how tired or disheveled or shifty-eyed they look. What’s more, looking at yourself in a mirror does not assist you in correcting the communication problems you see.
Presenters who realize the difference between presenting your point and presenting yourself can shed a lot of their anxiety. By definition, they are becoming less self-conscious. Adopting this state of mind, you become more of a delivery specialist than a public speaker — Your job is simply to move the package – your point – from your head to your audiences’ heads. Leave the psychologically dangerous activities to the singer, the magician, and the baton-thrower.
Getting comfortable with this point-centric mindset gets easier with experience – just remember that those frantic butterflies aren’t in your stomach; they’re in your head. So if you have glossophobia, focus on the single most important job at hand: identifying, developing, and making your point. If you deliver it, you succeed; if you don’t, you fail. It doesn’t get more complicated – and shouldn’t be more terrifying – than that.
A version of this article was originally published in Fast Company
Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for a national nonprofit organization, a frequent public speaker, a public speaking trainer, and author of the just-released leadership communication book “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Ideas and Make Your Words Matter”