Americans fear giving a speech before a group
more than they fear snakes, spiders, heights, disease, and death. To see how you
rate with the rest of the population, take the Attitude Toward
85% feel uncomfortable speaking before groups.
Even professionals sometimes have severe speech anxiety.
Sir Lawrence Olivier was a famous actor who suffered from
extreme stage fright
There is no magic formula for curing speech anxiety.
Symptoms are usually physical
- sweaty palms
- increased heart beat
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- increased blood pressure
- increased muscle tension
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.
- evaluating gestures
- body language
- physical attractiveness
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
- Performance orientation
- Physiological arousal
- Usually begins a few minutes before the speech as we anticipate
- 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
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
- 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
- If you score above 38 on the Attitude Toward Speaking Scale, you may want to take
Dr. Robert Ambler's special
class for speech anxious students.
- Systematic Desensitization
Systematic Desensitizations involves training in muscle relaxation, coupled with visual
- Relax while imagining giving a speech, the assumption being
that psychological anxiety doesn't go with physical relaxation.
- Start by imagining an event fairly remote from the planned
Once one achieves relaxation with that image, repeat the process
while imagining events closer to the speech.
Finally, while relaxed, visualize giving the speech.
- Rational Emotive Therapy (RET).
Talk it out and realize that fear is irrational.
- Shifting Speaker's Orientation Away from Performance
This is the method I often use. You will often hear me repeat:
"Communicate ideas, not words." Although we need to be concerned with basic
delivery such as eye contact, gestures, body language, etc., we should be most
concerned with getting our ideas across. Students commonly make the mistake of
trying to memorize speeches. Don't. Use a keyword/key-idea outline. Know what
ideas you want to get across and concentrate on the ideas, not the words. If you
attempt to memorize your speech, you will undoubtedly forget a word, go blank, and
panic. Memorizing a speech word for word is the worst thing you can do. Reading a
speech is boooorrrrrriinnnngg. Don't do it. Simply know your material (ideas) and
try to get it across to the audience. Use the keyword/idea outline as a map to
keep the ideas in their proper order.
- Be prepared!!
Do your research well ahead of time. Talk about a subject that you
know about or can really get into. Don't take the attitude of "The audience will
think my speech is boring. If it interests you, it will be interesting to the
audience. If you are an accounting major and think that accounting is boring,
change majors. Life is too short to spend working long hours doing something that
bores you or that you don't like.
- Get Positive Evaluation From the Audience.
I ask students in my class to evaluate each speech. Students are
gentler on each other than I am. After student evaluations, I step in and play the
bad cop, often disagreeing with what the class thinks. But remember, I'm there to
help you improve, not make you feel dumb. Think of the class as a workshop where
you can work through your strengths and weaknesses. That's why you're in
- Make the audience feel they are being spoken to, not spoken
The primary differences between conversation and public speaking
are that public speakers take longer before their turn is up,
and they need to spend more time selecting, organizing, and clarifying
their thoughts before speaking.
We have all rehearsed, refined, and edited what we should
have said after we have finished a conversation, especially an
argument. In public speaking, we get to do it before we speak. I think that's
- Decide on your specific objective first.
- What points do you want to communicate?
- Put yourself in the audience's place.
- Analyze your audience and speak to them on their level.
- Don't memorize; don't read.
- Remember ideas, not words, phrases, sentences, etc.
- Us an outline to keep organized, and as a memory aid.
- Don't think about hands and facial expressions.
- Concentrate on the ideas you want to communicate, and let
the hands and face take care of themselves.
- Take it slow and easy.
- Slow down and give the audience time to process your points.
- Speed is not a virtue in public speaking.
- Speak the way you talk.
- Speak the way you do in casual conversation with someone you
- Expecting perfection is unrealistic and dumb.
- Ask for advice and criticism
- Solicit frank criticism about your idiosyncrasies that distract
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