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Xenoglossophobia Is a Thing

Stage fright is real. Three out of four adults report some level of anxiety associated with public speaking. For most it is uncomfortable. For a few, it is paralyzing. In between those extremes are the rest of us who suffer through and perform well enough to communicate our message knowing that we are not at our best. Add to that the challenge of speaking in a language other than your native tongue and the multiplier is huge. You question your abilities and become distracted by the physical symptoms of self-doubt. It is no wonder that we shy away from opportunities to share our knowledge, experience, and valuable analyses.

What a surprise to learn that there is a word for it. Xenoglossophobia is the fear that causes distress, anxiety, and the symptoms we call nervousness that second language speakers experience. It is a thing. A real thing. You are not imagining it. It is not just you. It is a problem shared by many people who communicate in a language that is not native to their mind’s neural networks.

Identified and named, now what do you do about it? Here are 5 tips for managing and diminishing that phobia so that you can overcome an obstacle that challenges your greatest achievements.

  1. Talk about your fear to identify it clearly. Be sure to talk to people that can listen sympathetically and can offer feedback that encourages and motivates you. Coddling your fear or suggesting you avoid those situations is not productive. Addressing the issue directly, sharing methods and practices, and discovering your solutions are key to making progress.

  2. Rename your feelings. When we decide that we are nervous, we express nervousness, and our audience becomes distracted by that message. When we decide that we are excited, we engage the audience who welcome the opportunity to join us in that expression. MRI studies or the brain shows that the areas that light up when we are nervous are the same as when we are excited. It is the name we give it that causes us to manifest the feeling differently. Repeat, “I am excited,” over and over again as you feel the symptoms of what you once called nervousness. Smile and tell people how excited you are. Act excited. Be excited.

  3. Assess and pinpoint your individual issues for practice. Work with a professional to identify the gaps in skills. Even the most professional speakers have coaches, speech writers, consultants, and instructors. Olympic athletes have the same. Keep in mind that these professionals do not have to be the best in public speaking, but they are the best in educating the speaker in the skills and focused practice needed to deliver a message effectively.

  4. List your goals. Without a goal, your measurement of success relies on your feelings and not the actual accomplishment. Goals can be as simple as entertainment, education, sales, or networking. Without a goal, the message might be delivered but lays flat upon reception. We have all left meetings and presentations wondering, “What was the point?” If your goals are clear it will help to allay the fear that you won’t accomplish what you set out to do. Focusing on your goal offsets the focus on your feelings. Pay attention to your audience and how they feel about receiving your message and you will pay less attention to how you are doing. Although the spotlight is shining bright on you while you are on the stage, you can reflect that beam of light back onto the listeners and calm yourself more easily.

  5. Practice, practice, practice. But make sure you aren’t practicing your mistakes and reinforcing what you are attempting to change. There are methods of practice that reinforce poor delivery and methods that improve outcomes by adjusting message delivery issues. Taking the task up in small pieces to address specific pronunciation is useful. Practicing vowel clarity along with word reduction exercises improves clarity and fluency. Pacing and intonation are important skills to impress mood and value to the message communicated.

The best way to overcome any fear is with professional support and exposure. Denying the fear doesn’t alleviate the reality that it exists. There are methods and practices that can help you overcome xenoglossophobia and perform your best through every presentation as you build practical proficiency, equal eloquence, and self-confidence that allows you to brilliantly deliver the valuable resources you share among colleagues and friends.

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