Public Speaking Anxiety

From a tender age, I was always nervous about speaking it public or rather being in situations where I had to address people or read in public, be they my peers, or those older or younger than me. Still, within me, I admired numerous eloquent speakers both on television and other areas of social life, though I could not muster enough courage to publicly address others. Consequently, throughout childhood even college; I managed to avoid those situations that required me to be in the limelight addressing others.

My first public speaking experience happened in college where, as part of the required course work, every student was supposed to conduct a study on a social issue or topic of their choice, and present their findings in a college symposium that would combine colleges from our school district.

The presentation was scheduled for the last weeks of the college semester hence we had enough time to prepare. Accordingly, i chose to conduct a study on the attitudes of young people in my community, regarding obesity.

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I was extremely conversant with this issue thus the research part was easy. The presentation required a discussion of study’s background, the methodology used as well as the key findings. The thirty minute presentation was to be accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation which I proficiently prepared. However, I lacked any experience in public presentation and was scared of facing audiences. Consequently, for several days before the presentation, I would be incessantly overwhelmed with waves of physical anxiety that led to escalated feelings of stress, insomnia, and an outbreak of continual negative thoughts.

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Sitting in the audience on the day of the symposium, I began feeling exceedingly anxious, had sweaty palms, my mind was racing, and my heart was pounding as I watched my classmates ace their presentations.

When my turn on the podium came, I was so nervous, I could not talk let alone introduce myself. When I finally did speak, my voice shook, and my hands shook, and I was barely able to discuss my study. At some point, I let the PowerPoint presentation run without any commentary. I was paralyzed. After almost 15 minutes, I finished my disoriented presentation and left the podium. Unlike the previous presentations, there was no response from the audience. Furthermore, as expected, I scored poorly in the course yet I had conducted an excellent research. Later, after self reflection and discussions with my instructor, I discovered that I suffered from a severe case of public speaking anxiety or speech anxiety. Public speaking anxiety or Speech anxiety is also referred to as communication apprehension, which is generally a fear of public speaking. Public speaking anxiety emanates from a fundamental fear of being analyzed, studied or assessed by others.

Public speaking anxiety is a common phenomenon, whereby almost 70% of individuals experience a certain degree of speech anxiety, according to the University of Southern Mississippi Speaking Center. In fact, according to the University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information, various poll results prove that, compared to other stressful events, including divorce, bankruptcy, and death, public speaking intimidates Americans more (Verderber, Verderber and Sellnow, Essential Speech 32). Speech anxiety arises from the speaker inherent feelings that he or she may be unsuccessful in satisfying the expectations of his or her audience. In particular, the composition and make-up of the audience is the underlying cause of speech anxiety especially when the speaker perceived audience expectations do not match the perceived speaker abilities. Key research has shown that public speaking anxiety causes both psychological and physical symptoms.

These include physical anxiety symptoms like increased sweating, rapid heart and breathing rate, flushing, shaking, dry mouth, upset stomach or butterflies, dizziness, and voice changes. Psychologically, speech anxiety may manifest as feelings of fearfulness, uncertainty, humiliation and general lack of control. Moreover, in the course of the speech, an individual may develop fears that the audience is impervious to his or her message, and henceforth act nervous or ultimately forget his or her speech (Verderber, Verderber and Sellnow, Essential Speech 30-60). Accordingly, after discovering the cause of my poor public speaking skills I sought to find out how to cope with the diagnosis and eventually, improve my speech skills.

This was imperative since I also intended to join the broadcast journalism profession which requires excellent speech skills. Moreover, I understood that being fearful of social experiences and public speaking diminished my ability to appreciate life and attain goals. As such, I decided to change, acquire techniques and most importantly, overcome my communication apprehension. This decision prompted me to enroll at broadcast journalism course so that I could learn the art of public speaking, professionally. Subsequently, in this quest, I discovered a variety of coping skills ranging from before the speech, during the speech and after the speech.

Before the Speech or Preparation for the Speech

1.Isolate the cause of the nervousness. I discovered that it is necessary for any public speaker to determine the source of his or her nervousness. This is best accomplished by making a deductive list on the perceived reasons for the nervousness to explain the reason behind the reason. This technique is particularly helpful in pin-pointing problem areas that require further refining. 2.Subject selection. Another cardinal rule in coping with speech anxiety is the capacity to choose a speech topic that one is interested in and one that the individual is comfortable with. As such, this makes it easy for the speaker to present his or her ideas logically and enthusiastically. 3.Thorough preparation prior to in the speech event. In most cases, speakers do not always realize the acute role of preparation in suppressing nervousness before an audience. For instance, in my case, I believed that since I had prepared the research presentations adequately, and was conversant with the topic, it would be easy to deliver.

However, there are numerous facets of preparations that are essential for the success of any public speaking event, these include developing the right body language, making eye contact and effectively utilizing the time allocated for the speech (Hamilton 71). 4.Maximize the introduction and conclusion of the speech. Research shows that, in many cases, speech anxiety lessens significantly after the first thirty seconds of a presentation. In this regard, it is essential that the speaker memorizes his or her opening and closing remarks in order to capture the attention of the audience and also avert fears of imperviousness among the targeted audience (Witt and Behnke, Anticipatory Speech Anxiety as a Function of Public Speaking 167-177). 5.Avoid memorization of the entire speech. Instead, it is more productive for the speaker to prepare short notes from which they can speak or refer. In this way, the speaker can organize his or her thoughts to eliminate disorientation during presentation. 6.Audience and venue reconnaissance.

Another main tenet of public speaking understands of the target audience in terms of their characteristics, size and age group. The identification of the audience helps the speaker formulate specific behavioral mechanisms or adaptations for the type of audience. Furthermore, assessing the venue gives the feel of the event as well as allows the speaker to familiarize themselves with the equipment and technology to be used for the event. In addition, visiting the venue also helps the speaker to understand physical arrangements of the setting. In this sense, it is also essential to test the equipment to identify any issues prior to the event (Witt, Roberts and Behnke 215 – 226). 7.Adequate practice in speech delivery and timing. This is essential so that the speaker does not exceed set time parameters.

Effective time management is vital for the speaker to deliver an organized and consistent message. Further, during practice, it is advisable to continue to the end of the speech, even if one forgets a part of speech. This way, the speaker can master how to overcome instants of failed memory or to deal with errors. 8.Set realistic expectations. It is a fact that no human being is truly perfect. Similarly, in public speaking everyone is bound to make mistakes in their presentation. Consequently, it is more effective to move away from unrealistic goals such as flawless speech delivery, and focus on realistic tactics like, consulting one’s notes in the event of a failed memory or deviation (Griffin 221). 9.Use visualization techniques to imagine an ideal presentation.

Research shows, speakers who practice visualization techniques before their public speaking event report declined levels of communication apprehension. Indeed, visualization of the presentation helps purge negative thoughts about the event and replace them with more positive thoughts that are more empowering (Hamilton 1-71). 10.Continued practice. I discovered that sustained practice is critical for the speaker to develop eloquence and cope with speech anxiety in public speaking. In this regard, it is necessary to find opportunities that expose the speaker to mild to moderate stages of anxiety that challenge their ability to succeed. Through this, the speaker reinforces himself psychologically to operate at certain levels of anxiety.

During The Speech

A variety of scholars have suggested numerous principles that are essential for effective speech delivery. These include:. 1.Dress appropriately and comfortably. Studies have shown that the way a speaker presents him/herself in terms of attire influences the connection he or she makes with the audience. It is beneficial therefore, for the speaker to dress appropriately to the type of event. Besides, wearing outfits that one is comfortable and those that allow freedom of movement boosts their confidence in their presentation (Ferguson 32-56). 2.Relaxation techniques. To overcome communication apprehension, it is recommended that the speaker practices effortless relaxation techniques to help them focus on the task ahead. These relaxation techniques include deeps breaths, contraction and relaxation of muscles and visualization (Griffin 221-240).

3.Body language. Throughout the presentation, it is vital for the speaker to exercise control over the body signals he or she sends to the audience. At all times, it is essential for the speaker to suppress his or her anxiety by acting confident. Research has shown that most of the speakers’ anxiety is always invisible to the audience. Consequently, when the speaker acts confident the audience will perceive him or her as so and hence offer positive feedback (Hamilton 179). 4.Audience. Categorically, most of the communication apprehension emanates from the audience. Accordingly, the speaker should at all times concentrate on the audience rather than him/herself in order to identify signals of understanding. For instance, in the case that the audience seems drifting or uncertain, the speaker may introduce an attention-getting stratagem, such as a question, or use creative anecdotes to clarify a confusing idea. Furthermore, the speaker should sustain direct eye contact with the audience and center on friendly faces that boost his or her confidence (Hamilton 180).

Conducting prior audience analysis has a significant impact on how the speaker may control or handle the audience. Audience analysis helps the speaker define the demographic, psychographic and situational characteristics, as well as, fundamental cultural beliefs and values of the audience. By establishing the demographic nature, their dispositions about the theme of the speech and the knowledge base of the topic of the audience, the speaker can incorporate the right information and language into the speech delivery (Ferguson 52). 5.Speech structure. Almost every speech has a three part structure that is introduction, body and the conclusion. The speaker should begin with an arresting introduction that leads into a categorical statement of the main subject or topic (Hamilton 181).

The following arguments should aim at elaborating and developing the main theme persuasively and efficiently, while maintaining precision or succinctness. The conclusion should restate the main them and summarize the arguments presented. A strategic way to ensure smooth flow within the speech stricter may be by presenting the speech in reverse where the speaker begins with the conclusion that summarizes the main message, while abridging and restating the preceding information. This way, the speaker imparts unity, coherence, and places emphasis of the entire speech (Neale and Ely 15). 6.Use of visual aids. Visual aids should serve to guide the audience through the presentation in order to reinforce the key points, capture their attention and augment message retention.

As such, the speaker should strive to deliver the speech effectively and transition smoothly in between slides (Verderber, Verderber and Sellnow, Essential Speech 246). One strategy to effective PowerPoint presentations is timing, where the presentation must be well paced to accord the audience time to process and absorb the content. The speaker should at all times maintain eye contact with the audience instead of the visual aid. In addition, it is essential to make effortless transitions between speech and the visual aids. Visual aids should not be a distraction rather; they should be an extension of the speech. In essence, practice and cognizance of the transition timing ensure effective delivery (Verderber, Sellnow and Verderber 59).

After The Speech

In case that the speech was not proficient to the individual personal best, it is beneficial to review the event by relating to the “ten-year rule”. This rule helps determine whether the event will be pivotal in ten years’ time. In all prospects, the event may only remain relevant to the speaker in a year or two. More importantly, no one but the speaker will actually care about the events in the speech. Consequently, public speakers should learn not to incline on the way that they behaved or conducted themselves while delivering a speech. The best way to cope with anxiety after delivering a speech is through focusing on the impact their speech will have on the audience. Another best way to suppress anxiety at this stage is through engaging in dialogues with friends, workmates and other participants who encourage positively.

This helps in reassuring the public speaker of their capabilities. However, the presentation speech should not be the main theme of these talks. In conclusion, communication apprehension or speech anxiety can sidetrack speakers from achieving their best and thereby diminish the effectiveness of the speech performance. However, the reduction of anxiety through numerous techniques and principles contributes to positive outlooks and more successful public speaking presentations. On a personal level, the know ledge gained during my course has been extremely helpful towards building my public speaking skills. Even though, I am in the novice stages, I have discovered through the application of the strategies outlined herein I am, more confident in addressing my peers as well as conducting academic presentations.

Works Cited
Ferguson, Sherry Devereaux . Public Speaking: Building Competency in Stages. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Griffin, Cindy L. Invitation to Public Speaking. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2011. Hamilton, Cheryl . Cengage Advantage Books: Essentials of Public Speaking. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2011. Neale, Thomas H. and Dana Ely. Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication. CRS Report for Congress. Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2007. Verderber, Rudolph F., Deanna D. Sellnow and Kathleen S. Verderber. The Challenge of Effective Speaking. Boston,MA: Cengage Learning, 2011. Verderber, Rudolph F., Kathleen S. Verderber and Deanna D. Sellnow. Essential Speech. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2010. Witt, Paul L. and Ralph R. Behnke. "Anticipatory Speech Anxiety as a Function of Public Speaking." Communication Education, Vol. 55, No. 2 (2006): 167-177. Witt, Paul L., Mendy L. Roberts and Ralph R. Behnke. "Comparative Patterns of Anxiety and Depression in a Public Speaking Context ." Human Communication Vol. 11, No.1 (2007): 215 – 226.

Updated: Apr 12, 2021
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Public Speaking Anxiety. (2016, Dec 19). Retrieved from

Public Speaking Anxiety essay
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