I have a phobia of speaking in public. How do I overcome this fear? It hurts me both professionally and socially.

—Scared Silent (United States)

Dear S.S.:

Perhaps you could look into a public-speaking class at an extended learning program or a Toastmasters meeting.

Start with small steps, like saying loudly to a group of people something like, “Hey, they just put out more pizza,” or something simple like that. If you are more comfortable with being in front of others in a particular way, do more of those things—for example, playing basketball with others while people are watching, or singing a song during karaoke or open mic at a small café, or maybe doing a fancy spin on the dance floor. You can try heading a meeting of three people if you’re working together on a project (maybe just standing up and saying, “Thank you for coming,” before the meeting starts). Gradually, do more and more as your comfort level increases. Don’t worry if you feel afraid—validate taking small steps and know that over time, that fear will decrease the more you desensitize yourself to the anxiety of speaking in front of a group.

Congratulations on taking these steps.

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