Vocabulary and Confidence: Why People Fear Public Speaking More than Death


Communication Skills

We all know: people are simply petrified of speaking in public.

Whether in a meeting, at a conference, or simply addressing your peers – the fear is is real. Some even fear public speaking more than they fear death.

It’s understandable: nobody wants to look like a fool in front of a single person, let alone having that insecurity amplified and multiplied by a crowd.

And because we get so tense and nervous, our brains freeze up. We start to stutter or lose our train of thought … and we end up looking like a fool – exactly what we tried to avoid.

Have you ever heard people say ‘I know what I want to say, I just don’t have the word for it’? In those cases, the speaker actually knows what they want to communicate, but an insufficient vocabulary to say it.

In other cases, they don’t even have enough vocabulary to give shape to the actual thoughts. After all, if the thoughts are clear enough, it’s dead simple to express them. That inherent lack of accurate words is exactly why people flounder when speaking in public. Your mind can’t express ideas if it doesn’t have the tools for it.

And that’s precisely why we need a robust active vocabulary. Without it, we’ll always be stuttering, fumbling to find the right words.

I think we’ve all had the experience: You launch into your talk, and before you know it, you go blank … you stand there, in the classic “deer in headlights” stance. The room quiets, everybody stares at you. You know you should continue and pick up the thread. Oh, where did that thread go? You start again, but you’ve grabbed the wrong thread, and no matter how much your mind scrambles, you keep pulling up blanks.

Never happened to you? You’re lucky – I sure have had the experience more than a few times :/

What made the big difference for me was vocabulary (of course: If you ask me, almost any problem can be solved with vocabulary. But I digress). These days, I’m fairly comfortable when speaking in public. I still get some jitters, but that’s normal for even the most seasoned speakers, including famous stand-up comedians and news anchors.

To me connecting vocabulary to confident public speaking was akin to accidentally unearthing an incredible side effect of a superfood. I had already discovered the immense power of vocabulary and I was happily reading books and filling my mind with more and more words. But one day after a public talk, my wife asked how it had gone, and I surprised myself: “Good, actually. Really good. It’s strange, but I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt in control.”

At that time, I simply put it down to increased confidence. But as I thought about it more and discussed my experience with others, something became clear. Fear of public speaking is the mind signaling: “I’m not sure I’m ready for this”. That fear then breaks your concentration and causes mistakes. Those mistakes make you more nervous, meaning you’ll slip up even more.

And in the end, your entire talk falls apart.

So how does a more robust active vocabulary help? It’s simple, really.

When you have more words at your disposal, you formulate coherent thoughts faster, which leads to more eloquent, and confident delivery when speaking. And each time you do get your point across, and you see people ‘getting’ you, your mind perceives “I can do this”. This gives an incredible boost to your confidence.

The great thing about this is that it accumulates: all those moments of confirmation build up to give you confidence, poise, and the ability to express yourself ever more clearly and coherently. But there’s more to it: Once you increase your vocabulary, people will actually start “hearing” your intelligence. They will pay closer attention, open themselves to your ideas, and be far more cooperative.

And the best thing? This confidence effect works for you in all situations where you practice your active vocabulary in communication. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in front of an audience, or addressing the board, or simply explaining a new concept to your colleague. Each time your meaning is delivered accurately, and you see/feel the audience’s affirmation, your confidence consistently goes up.

You’ve heard, “I’m in the zone” right? When you are in the “vocabulary zone” – that mental state where words and meaning just flow from you – people instantly recognize AND trust your words. Deliberately augmenting your vocabulary will give you the same commanding and confident delivery seen in viral TED talks.

Written by Greg Ragland, President, CEO of CommEdge LLC producers of Vocabulary Zone and the corresponding Vocabulary Certifications: College Preparedness, Ph.D. Vocabulary and Executive Level Vocabulary

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