Facing our fears

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By: Renny Logan <rlogan@hilite.org>

Alice Shen is just another sophomore. And just like all the other sophomores, she is required to take English 10-2, otherwise known as speech class.

Likewise, she’s one of many who fear speaking in front of a large group of people. “I’m so nervous about (speech class),” Shen said.

Of course, a little bit of anxiety is natural; everyone worries about all eyes being on them and giving a good impression.

But for some people, glossophobia, fear of public speaking, can be crippling. However, “phobia” is a word both used and taken all too lightly.

While the symptoms people experience when delivering public speeches are no doubt anxiety and sometimes even fear—like what Shen said that she experiences—it probably is not glossophobia.

Psychology teacher Pete O’Hara said, “Phobia is complete avoidance; it is an anxiety disorder. (The victim) might not even want to be in the room, just knowing they will be giving a speech.”

He said it’s only a phobia if the individual is experiencing overwhelming anxiety to the point where they cannot function.

“A lot of people think they have phobias and it’s really not that extreme,” psychology teacher
Robin Pletcher said.

But that knowledge doesn’t always make the situation easier for people like Shen. The fear of public speaking is something that she and others like her must learn to overcome.

While fear might not help, anxiety is okay to have when giving a speech. In fact, it’s expected. Both O’Hara and Pletcher said being nervous could actually enhance your performance.

“If you’re not nervous, something’s wrong,” speech teacher John Love said.

“It’s okay to be nervous.” Love said. He tries hard to make giving speeches as easy for his students as he can. For example, he starts his students off with short, impromptu speeches at their desks and always treats the “speeches” like everyday, ordinary conversations.

“I want the kids to feel like it is not a very threatening environment and hopefully they will feel comfortable,” Love said.

For those who are a little more nervous than others, there are ways to handle the anxiety.

“Be prepared, concentrate on relaxing and take deep breaths. Preparation is key,” Pletcher said.

Scott Grauman, current speech student and sophomore, said, “I’m nervous when I first think about it but if I practice and run through it I get comfortable.” Grauman said he’s fine in ordinary situations talking
to people but is slightly anxious about speech class.

For each individual, the cause of fear can be different. According to different psychological approaches, anxiety can be caused by anything from genes to traumatic experiences.

“Maybe you’ve had a bad experience, which is the behavioral approach,” Pletcher said. “The biological approach says there’s something chemically wrong, like you inherited it from your parents. It could be several things.”

However, for most high school students, it’s a safe assumption that the anxiety is from thinking everyone’s attention is mainly focused on them.

Shen said, “It’s just having so many people staring at you and you being the loudest person in the room.”

“It was easier than I thought; the hardest part is getting up and starting to talk.” Angela Ma, current speech student and sophomore, said, “I was (nervous) before, but then I thought about it as a conversation, just with more people. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Once you get up there it just flows, it’s nothing to freak out about.”

Ma has already given her first speech of the semester and said it was easier than she had imagined.

For students who are currently enrolled in speech, or are looking forward to it in the near future, the
general consensus seems to be that it’s not half as bad as it seems.

There really is nothing to fear. Ma and Grauman said. They said that knowing it’s required and that everyone else has to do it helps them feel at ease.

“It’s actually pretty good, since we’ll use it in life,” Grauman said. “I used to get really nervous; everyone’s gotta do it, you’re not the only one. That helps me calm down. Don’t worry too much; just relax. Once you get going, you’ll feel more comfortable; just starting is the hardest part for me.”

Shen just gave her first speech recently and she said she is already more at ease with public speaking.

“It’s actually pretty fun. I was really nervous, but the teacher’s trying to help. I think it’ll turn out a really fun class,” she said. “Just don’t be so nervous about speech class.”