9 Speech Anxiety

What is it?

Speech anxiety is best defined as the nervousness that a speaker feels before and/or during a presentation. Sweating palms, a shaky voice, a dry throat, difficulty breathing, and even memory loss are all common symptoms of anxiety. The symptoms you, as an individual, will feel are hard to predict. But it helps if you remember that nearly every speaker has experienced some degree of speech anxiety. Even professional speakers occasionally feel a small amount of apprehension at times. Anxiety levels vary. Some speakers will report little to no anxiety while speaking; others will confess that they are petrified at the thought of speaking in public. Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that “at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. ” Now that is fear!

How Do I Overcome My Fear?

There are many reasons why a speaker might feel anxious, but there are several steps you can take to reduce your anxiety. First, remember that everyone has experienced some level of anxiety during a presentation. Knowing that you are not the only one feeling nervous should help a bit. Keep in mind that most listeners won’t even be aware of your anxiety. They often don’t see what you thought was glaringly obvious; they’re busy preparing themselves for their turn up front. It is perfectly normal to feel nervous when you find yourself in an unfamiliar setting or situation. You probably felt nervous the first time you had to shoot a foul shot in front of a large crowd of basketball fans. Or you might recall the anxiety you felt during your first piano recital as a child, or that first job interview. Think of this nervous feeling as your body readying itself for an important activity.

Also, you might feel anxious if you have not adequately prepared for the presentation. Preparing and practicing your presentation are two of the surest ways to minimize nervousness. No one wants to feel embarrassed in public, but knowing that you have done everything possible to ensure success should help you feel more confident. Do your research and organize your ideas logically. Then practice several times. Try to find someone to listen as you practice -your family, your friends, your roommate -and listen to their feedback. Even if they don’t know your topic, they know you. They may even be able to point out some areas in your presentation that still need improvement. The more you prepare and practice, the more successful your presentation will likely be.

Finally, be optimistic and focus on the positives. Use positive self-talk as you prepare. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll perform horribly or that you can’t do it. Have you ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? What you expect to happen may be exactly what does happen. So tell yourself that you’re well prepared and that you will improve every time you speak. Remind yourself that you are calm and in control of the situation and be sure to take a deep breath whenever necessary. Imagine yourself speaking clearly and effortlessly. Find a couple of friendly faces in the crowd and focus on them. If they’re sending positive energy your way, grab it!

How Nervous Am I?

New speakers often overestimate the amount of anxiety they feel or expect to feel when speaking in public. The self-assessment below is an easy way to determine where your level of anxiety places you when measured against the level reported by others. You may be surprised to find that this assessment indicates that you are less anxious than you might have originally anticipated.


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Fundamentals of Public Speaking Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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