Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why am I 'speakophobic'?

I was in a meeting few days back, which was held for new PhD students at EPFL. Roughly, 30 students of my batch were present. Everybody was asked to introduce himself and briefly tell about his motivation for PhD. It was not a big deal. I thought about my introduction and 1-2 sentences of motivaiton. I was feeling confident. But, slowly as the turn was coming closer to me, confidence started decaying at an exponential rate, construction of sentences started in my mind, revising every sentence again and again. Introduction part was easier, but motivation was causing some trouble. When, I was 2 turns away, words ceased to popup in my mind, mind was blocked, heartbeats went up, actually I could hear them clearly and was praying that the girl sitting next to me could not. Finally, I could manage speaking a few lines while fumbling in the pronunciation of some long difficult words. This was not my first experience of this kind of meeting and the situation was not better before either. So, I decided to analyse the situation and look for the possible causes of my horrible experiences like this.

I thought the possible situations when I face this problem. First, I noticed that as soon as I am concerned about being distinct (special) from others by what I am speaking, there is a problem. I become extra conscious by this thought which hinders my thinking process and affects my concentration. Actually, in the case mentioned above, I was not able to think anything else at the last moment just before speaking. Second possible source of problem is the thought that people sitting in front of me are not concerned about what I am speaking. It creates an inferiority complex. This situation normally arises when I am speaking in front of a crowd of my peers or superiors. Another very common problem is the lack of confidence in what I am speaking, i.e., the doubt that what I am speaking makes sense or not. That might be a problem both in speaking in front of a crowd or in a group discussion.

Talking in a group of friends or talking with relatives is generally not a problem. That makes one thing very clear that as long as I am assured about my relationship with other person(s), evrything is fine. Normally, the presenations of your own work also is not very difficult, possibly because the knowledge and confidence in the topic of the discussion does help in improving the situation. Sometimes people feel more comfortable in personal interviews rather than group discussions. It is a bit strange , but I could not figure out exactly the reason behind it. One possible advantage of personal interview, which comes to my mind ,is the surity that one will have a chance to explain himself properly in an interview which is not guranteed in a group discussion.


  1. I have tried to analyze the topic based on my personal experiences. There might be other possible aspects which might help. Therefore, people are welcome to share their views.

  2. Nice. Yes, the moment you start feeling that what you are going to say would charm others or make you "special" in some way, you loose confidence and chances you fumble are much higher. Has happened with me umpteen number of occasions.

  3. Also, it's really good to see you are trying to address the basic problems of personality. PhD is the best time when one can do so. Lots of time. Lots of loneliness. I follow the same.

  4. Well, here I am trying to post my opinion for the second time and I hope this gets posted now.
    What you have shared is somewhat similar to my first experience. I never have any problem speaking about topics I know.

    I have attended several paper presentations competitions, gave talks in front of pretty decent sized crowds but when the first time I came in front of an international audience (about 50 in the room) and I was asked to speak about my country and culture, I had several things which I wanted to speak out, but when I started, my usual bold voice did not come out that bold. I thought of speaking out loud to feel more confident but my voice was not coming out, it was like I had some knot in my throat. But some how I had to speak only for two minutes and thankfully I managed well, people felt I spoke very well and whatever I spoke actually reached audience and they understood something.

    After this experience, I felt that this is not my usual self. I spoke confidently and more boldy the very first time I presented a paper in NITW and I almost had a fist fight with the judge and the organizer and I was feeling miserable and am I the same person?

  5. I just wanted to get past these hickups. This was in a PhD startup program (a short term course organized by the TU). At that instant I decided I had to get past all these and I wanted to grab every opportunity I get to speak. In the next two days, I spoke nearly on five more occasions, and the best one came when the workshop organizer asked someone among the 50 odd people present there to come in front and he called it the elevator pitch, and speak out about the program and if I were given a chance to speak to the Rector Magnificus and several other professors about why I wanted to do my PhD. For a minute there was no one who came up, but I thought if I can take the initiative and talk, it would be a great confidence booster, and I did it. While walking only I liked the applause of the crowd and I felt that this is something I should be doing for the rest of my life. When I started thinking this way, I was more confident and some spontaneous humor came out while I was talking and everyone in the crowd liked what I spoke out for two minutes and this was a real confidence booster. The next day I gave an interview too to the university magazin.

    After all this, I was still feeling that I was lacking something. My professor once asked in a group meeting who wants to present something the next time, I thought I should grab this opportunity and though I had hardly 3 days to prepare for the presentation, I somehow made something. When I was looking at the slides, I was getting nervous and I thought I should probably make notes for each slide and probably prepare. But I felt hold on, this is only for a group meeting and I felt probably everytime I am asked to talk something, I have been preparing a bit too much and I wanted to try spontaneity this time. It was on my area (corrosion) and I thought about the best presenter I ever saw in my life (my guru, my motivator, Dr.Bala) and I thought how would he present any topic on corrosion for a while.

    The starting 1 min I was nervous and to get rid of this, I started smiling and talking generally to the audience on the present topic and started what do they think about this, and then I started speaking. I felt good and I gave a kick-ass talk. And then I realized that its all over now, all the fears are gone. After this I gave a presentation at a conference and I spoke on some general topic in another workshop and then I gave another presentation in my kick-off meeting.

    The things I realized were:
    1) Dont prepare too much for everything, the reality is when you are speaking, you always want to make a lasting impression on the audience and thus we tend to put in more effort and forget relaxing ourself before the actual moment. Well, this happened to me in my thesis defense, I did not sleep on the night before my defense. So,
    2) Have a good night's sleep before your presentation (atleast till you feel confident that you are a great presenter) and just be relaxed for atleast 1hr before you are presenting and dont even think about the topic. Then you would be presenting spontaneously whatever is in your mind and this is the best one can present.
    3) Grab every opportunity you get to present.

    I am sure you would be an awesome presenter soon. By the way, I am looking forward for a presentation skills course here, which would start in March to become better.

    All the best!

  6. It was a bit lengthy but that's what I have been through and I now feel a better presenter, but still there is a lot of scope for improvement :)

  7. Thanks Sai for your sharing your experience...