Glossophobia (as a non-english speaker): when picturing your audience in their underwears is just not enough.....

Glossophobia: the fear of public speaking. ( Yes, I had to look it up ). With my committee meeting coming up and my defense thesis looming in the future, I am getting sweaty palms imagining those "experts"scrutinizing me and trying to figure out what they will be thinking. It got much better since freshman year because one has to go do the "song and dance" in public every so often i the us educational system. Still, my first public speaking in a foreign language was so dreadful that thereafter I carefully chose my classes to limit to a minimum the amount of those "assignements".
Apparently, I am not the only one feeling this way. Here in the US, it's the most common phobia right before the fear of death :) which led to the famous Seinfeld line : " That would mean at a funeral, people are five times more likely to want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy".
The oddity is that 1) I think at this point, I would rather give a speech in my 3rd language (English ) rather than in French or in Malagasy (I cannot explain why) 2) A speech of mine in english would still make more sense than anything the current president ever said ( in public or private) . ( OK, that was a cheap shot). In the field of science, we do not have a lot of formal communication classes. Many scientists will tell you that they chose the field so they have to deal with the minimum human factor and thus minimum human interaction. However, presenting our work is a major part of our curriculae. This situation results in an elevated proportion of below mediocre oral presentations regardless of the quality of the research ( the best research studies are often presented poorly because the science research field is in majority composed of non-english speakers )
How did I somehow overcome the double obstacles ( phobia and foreign language ) ?:
1) I stopped caring: I promised myself I would not worry about how I sounded ( prununciation is still an issue) or how I looked (body language: I tend to use my hands when I present things).
2) I would make sure 3 main points would get across to the audience even if I had to repeat them ad vitam eternam. This restriction forced me to organize my thought accordingly and select my words carefully.
3) consequence to #2: Be humble: self-depreciation and a bit of humor were forced upon me as I was often inentionally funny ( mispronoucing roster or crick would have that effect, I will let you guess what I said instead). I figure I will get in on the joke even if it was at my own expense. Do not overdo it though because there is a thin line between humor and stupidity. ( I am not quite sure where it is myself ).
4) Know your audience. You have to anticipate the question. Q&A's is where a line is drawn between a successful or a failed presentation. My roomate still remember after 3 years the tale of the grad student who asked whether his audience was familiar with a biological software that was developped by those same people.( That would fall in the stupid category not the funny one).
5) When all else fails: get a shot of martini ( shaken not stirred :) ) it will loosen you greatly and you can pretend to be 007.


  1. Another tip : drink a can of red bull and you will be babbling away !
    good luck for your committee meeting.
    the funny thing is that the speaker often has no idea what he looks like to his audience.
    I tend to use my hands a lot too, out of nervousness, and always thought it reflected badly upon me, but then I went to an interview where it was interpreted as a sign of energy and enthusiasm. :-) so you never know.
    Hey, Joakim Noah won ! I don't suppose you got to have a glimpse of him, you must be way too busy preparing your committee meeting.

  2. red bull? the one that gives you wing :) I cannot bear to watch myself talking on tape, just too painful. I caught a glimpse of the Noah family :) I am thrilled that a self-described citizen of the world is shining on the big stage , I just hope he stays grounded ( might be difficult after all this)

  3. I'm nervous anytime I have to speak in front of anyone, even if it's just to give a brief introduction of myself in front of a small group.

    The other day at my first social anxiety therapy group session, I had to introduce myself in front of about 10 other people. I just couldn't do it. I lost control and burst into tears in front of everyone. :(

    I guess I have a looong way to go. Giving speeches is definitely not on my list anytime soon.

  4. sorry the group session did not go well. I hope you keep attending the next sessions in spite of that incident. I also had the worst of time but it got better eventually.