Speech Anxiety

Some Facts:

Symptoms are usually physical

How we interpret the symptoms is most important.

Confident speakers have the same symptoms but see them as a sign that they are "up" for the speech. Anxious speakers, on the other hand, interpret them as fear. They justify their fear by imagining what will happen if their speech is less than perfect. They become irrational, thinking that the audience will ridicule them if they make a mistake. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because their fear causes them to stumble, increasing their fear even more. The truth is that audiences largely ignore errors and awkwardness if they are interested in the content of the speech.

Viewing the Speech as Performance

Viewing a speech as a performance especially leads to anxiety. Such people see the audience as critics they must satisfy.

Expectation of evaluation leads to anxiety in all situations.

Unfortunately, students in a speech class are evaluated. The truth is we should view speeches as communication rather than performance. Think of it as normal conversation: sharing ideas.

Three Stages of Anxiety

  1. Performance orientation
  2. Physiological arousal
    • Usually begins a few minutes before the speech as we anticipate making it.
    • Symptoms increase sharply as we begin the speech, with heart rates going up to between 110 and 190 bpm.
    • Arousal usually subsides within 30 seconds and gradually goes down.


      Some people's arousal sharply increases in the middle of the speech or awhile after the speech begins.
      "I was doing just fine, then something happened and I lost it."
  3. Interpretation of arousal as fear.
    It's best to realize that the arousal will be short lived. Anxiety can't be eliminated; therefore, go with the flow, accept it as normal. Audiences don't see the fear, the shaking, etc.

Ways to combat anxiety


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