Public speaking isn’t easy. Just ask anyone who’s ever blown a sales pitch, failed a class, or fumbled their way through a presentation because they froze up or couldn’t find the right words. No wonder more than 75 percent of people in the United States suffer from glossophobia, the fear of speaking in front of crowds.

ow did we end up giving so many speeches with so few of us trained in the art of speech making? Even though approximately 50 countries are ruled by dictators or suffer some form of significant limits on personal freedom and freedom of speech, there is more talking, debating, and discussion going on around the globe than ever before in human history. This is all good. Ideally, unfettered, free, and uncoerced thinking and talking are essential to preserving self-​determination, individual freedom, and open forms of limited government as well as free-market economies.

You are likely a part of the 75 percent of the global population who are afraid of speaking in public. This includes princes and prime ministers, presidents, and preachers. It also includes students, salespeople, parents, managers, philanthropists, factory workers, and just about anyone who is required or chooses to communicate with other people. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — one of the most composed, powerful, and self-​assured world leaders of all time — told me once that at times even she was afraid on the podium. To imagine that a woman with all that worldly experience could be fearful of speaking in public explains why the humblest among us also grows nervous at the prospect of being called upon to stand and deliver in front of an audience. For many of us, this means that deploying even the most basic communication skills, like making a phone call, can be challenging. Not surprisingly, there is a name for this fear and affliction: glossophobia.

Apple cofounder, Steve Wozniak.

There is nothing more personally affirming than gaining dominion in public speaking. It will affect all aspects of your life because learning to speak effectively rests on gaining new levels of self-​knowledge and personal confidence. It’s a game-changer. I know this is true because it is how I started to unleash my abilities.

Finding your authentic self and your success at public speaking is cause and effect. Understanding who you are in relation to a profession, performance, skill, or life experience can help turn you into an effective speaker. Your authenticity  will ultimately win your audience. Your content may be lacking, but if your customer believes in you, the sale is made. There is no more important rule to learn in public speaking than this.

Why is being authentic the first and most critical step to complete acceptance by your audience, and what does being authentic mean? Any speaker can rise or fall in success even before their first word is spoken because more than 50 percent of all communication is considered nonverbal. It is not just your physical appearance: your clothing, your makeup, your haircut, eye contact, or your posture — although these are important in conveying your authenticity. It is your state of thought, your acceptance of yourself, how you view and value yourself, and, most importantly, how you regard and value your audience and your message. It is what’s going on inside of you that transports the inside of the listener to the individual waiting for your delivery.

In a way, speaking in public is revealing of the self and an exposure of self, which makes some people want to do anything but talk in front of others. Conversely, the opposite is true (in many cases) where speakers want to do nothing but talk about themselves. Note, however, that talking about oneself does not necessarily translate into being considered authentic or even confident, though it may come across that way initially. Excessive talking about oneself may be a mask or barrier to revealing more genuine aspects of the authentic self. Talking about yourself does not equate to knowing yourself. These factors figure in all speaking, even if your topic happens to be wholly impersonal and scientific. It is still about your life and is a reflection of who you are and why and how you conducted the research that gives you credibility.

Now you might think, “Hey, I thought I was reading about how to be an effective public speaker, not about personal psychology!” And, I am telling you that your complete success as a speaker depends on conquering this one critical psychological point.

Excerpted from Winning Your Audience by James Rosebush (Copyright 2020). Used with permission from Center Street,
a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.