The worst that could happen

Public speaking brings great rewards when it’s done well.

Delivering a good speech, doing well in an interview or giving a brilliant acting performance can give us great personal satisfaction, confidence and can also lead to professional rewards.

The flipside is that when we put ourselves in the spotlight, we expose ourselves to risks. The risk that we might forget what to say. The risk that we might look too nervous. The risk of being negatively evaluated.

Most of the time, such risks never actually eventuate. Despite being nervous, things usually turn out alright.

However, there are occasions when things do go wrong – that is, where the worst thing that could happen actually happens. You might have experienced this personally while speaking in public, or you might have witnessed it happening to someone else in the spotlight.

Spare a thought for the well-known actors, singers and presenters who have given performances that have gone wrong.

For example, Juanita Phillips, an Australian news presenter, suffered from a stress-induced laryngeal spasm while reading the 7pm news bulletin, in front of millions of viewers. The stress and anxiety in her life at the time caused her vocal cords to freeze – a common symptom of public speaking anxiety. Later, Phillips told the Australian Women’s Weekly that her panic attacks began shortly after her two children were born. You can watch a video on YouTube of the incident here.

Negative public speaking experiences can scar very deeply, sometimes for life, and as a result can lead people to avoid public speaking altogether. If avoidance becomes a habit, a full-blown phobia of public speaking can develop. Science has even coined the term ‘glossophobia’ for the phobia or fear associated with public speaking.

Take the example of Barbara Streisand – the famous American actor and singer. During a concert in New York’s Central Park in 1967, she forgot the words to several songs. Streisand was so fearful it would happen again that she avoided singing publicly for 27 years.

The good news is that you can recover from embarrassing public speaking experiences, and they needen’t lead to glossophobia. Believe it or not, Juanita Phillips still reads the news, and Barbara Streisand eventually made a momentous comeback tour in the mid 1990s.

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