Public Speaking, Why All The Fuss?
When asked, the majority of people in the US would claim that there greatest fear is getting up in front of a crowd and giving a speech. People 100 years ago would not say that public speaking was their worst fear, but they had more threatening things to worry about right? I’m talking about things like war, and wild animals, and rampant crime without great law enforcement. The fact that our society is more tame is perhaps part of this strange fear of a relatively benign circumstance but doesn’t explain it entirely. I want to discuss why we are so afraid and measures that can be taken to put our fears to rest.
So why are we so afraid of public speaking? Well for one thing not very many of us are good at it and we don’t know how to get better. Public oration was a skill highly valued in the past and therefore it was something that was worked on with much effort and time in school. Part of the reason that more people that were schooled in speech making in the past was because school was really only for those to whom the skill would be beneficial. What I am trying to get at is that only the “gifted” children were formally trained in such skills and the rest of kids worked on the far and never had the need to make a speech. With the requirement of grade school, and the assumption of a college education, there are more people than ever that, in my opinion, shouldn’t be there in the first place and will never use the skills they may gain in the second.
So first we are not good at it, second we don’t for the most part need to do it regularly, and third as mention in the first paragraph threatening has taken on a whole new definition in this relatively safe society. So why are people called on to do public speaking that don’t have the natural skills, desires, or regular practice that they need to be good? Well that is a function of the vast middle class in this country who think they are good enough to carry on the traditions of the rich and famous, but who lack the upbringing and training that make a person truly gifted in the art of public speaking. Famous examples would be graduation addresses, wedding tosts, eulogies, etc. We, I think, expect too much of ourselves and therefore are definitely afraid of the inevitably horrible job that we are going to do?
My answer? Well either imagine all the horrible things that are much worse than the agony of embarrassment. Or you could actually take the time to get trained (not recommended unless your job requires that you do it all the time). Or you could just give up on the senseless traditions of the past that were required of people that were much better trained to do public speaking.