Whether you call it speech anxiety, communication apprehension, fear of public speaking, or just plain fear, one thing is certain, the majority of people experience the same thing when speaking to a group of people in a formal setting. Sometimes just the thought of giving a speech makes us feel uncomfortable. Sometimes those feelings manifest into physical reactions such as sweating, stuttering, flushedness, and dizzieness. Often we forget what we are going to say, feel unprepared and unsure, and just want the experience to end. With information, experience, and self-confidence, however, you can reduce these experiences and deliver an effective speech.
There are many ways to approach giving a speech, though only one is optimal. Some people regard delivering a speech as no problem. Often people with high speech anxiety wish they could be so confident and unafraid. This no problem approach is not without its drawbacks, however. People with this approach are often so confident in their speaking abilities, that they fail to prepare even an outline of their speech. In other words, although the delivery is skilled, the content lacks direction, clarity, and focus. Furthermore, because the speaker has only considered their own abilities, they have failed to consider the other crucial part of a speech – the audience. Effective speakers must consider how the audience might respond to the delivery and content of the speech. Because speakers with a no problem approach are often so confident in their own abilities that they forget how crucial the audience is to the success or failure of their speech.
Speakers with high speech anxiety often place the emphasis on the wrong place as well. Anxious speakers tend to focus more on what the audience might think about them and what they are presenting. Again, equal emphasis must be placed on the speaker and the audience. Speakers experiencing anxiety often try to manage their uncomfortable feelings by being well organized and prepared. Anxious speakers often invest a lot of time and effort into preparing a very informative speech but struggle to convey that information effectively. They may, for example, read their entire speech verbatim. Though informative, public reading is not nearly as interesting to the audience, nor as effective as public speaking. Consideration must be given to what is said (content), how it is said (delivery), and who it is said to (audience).
One common strategy that is used to reduce speech anxiety is to view a speech as a communication opportunity, a chance to share ideas and information with others. Although most people feel comfortable with communication opportunities when one-on-one and in small groups, that feeling of comfort changes to anxiety when communicating with others one-on-many. Public speaking really is one-on-one communication, however, just with multiple ones. That is, you are a person trying to communicate effectively with several individuals simultaneously. Remember, a speech is not a performance. A speech is about being yourself and sharing what you know with others.
Another strategy to reduce speech anxiety is to avoid regarding a speech as an opportunity to fail. Mistakes will occur and although avoiding a speech to avoid making a mistake may make you feel better temporarily, remember that you have missed an opportunity to practice. Regardless of your performance, each time you deliver a speech you gain experience. It is that experience that develops confidence, even if a few mistakes are made along the way.
Finally, keep in mind that some anxiety about public speaking is normal so do not expect that the symptoms will immediately or completely disappear. It is more likely that the feelings of anxiety will weaken over time with information and practice. Anxiety is a form of psychological arousal as is excitement. Therefore, with experience you may be able to transform your speech anxiety into speech excitement. To this end, a 3-point strategy has been developed to assist in the management of speech anxiety. The three step process outlined below will help you manage the anxiety often associated with public speaking so that you can improve the content and delivery of your speeches.
- Understand speech anxiety
- Manage physical and emotional responses
- Plan a course of action to effectively deal with those responses
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