Top Ten Ways to Reduce Speaking Anxiety
As you can see in this section, there are many factors that contribute to speaking anxiety, and there are many ways to address it. The following is a list of the top ten ways to reduce speaking anxiety that I developed with my colleagues, which helps review what we’ve learned.
- Remember, you are not alone. Public speaking anxiety is common, so don’t ignore it—confront it.
- Remember, you can’t literally “die of embarrassment.” Audiences are forgiving and understanding.
- Remember, it always feels worse than it looks.
- Take deep breaths. It releases endorphins, which naturally fight the adrenaline that causes anxiety.
- Look the part. Dress professionally to enhance confidence.
- Channel your nervousness into positive energy and motivation.
- Start your outline and research early. Better information = higher confidence.
- Practice and get feedback from a trusted source. (Don’t just practice for your cat.)
- Visualize success through positive thinking.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! Practice is a speaker’s best friend.
How Much Emphasis Should We Place on Delivery?
Before you read the rest of the chapter, take some time to think about the balance between the value of content and delivery in a speech. We know it’s important to have solid content and to have an engaging and smooth delivery to convey that content, but how should each category be weighted and evaluated? Most people who have made it to college can put the time and effort into following assignment guidelines to put together a well-researched and well-organized speech. But some people are naturally better at delivering speeches than others. Some people are more extroverted, experience less public speaking anxiety, and are naturally more charismatic than others. Sometimes a person’s delivery and charisma might distract an audience away from critically evaluating the content of their speech. Charismatic and well-liked celebrities and athletes, for example, are used to endorse products and sell things to the public. We may follow their advice because we like them, instead of basing our choice on their facts or content. Aristotle, Cicero, and other notable orators instructed that delivery should be good enough to present the material effectively but not so good or so bad that it draws attention to itself. But in today’s celebrity culture, the bling or packaging is sometimes more valued than the contents. This leads us to some questions that might help us unpack the sometimes tricky relationship between content and delivery.
- Do you think worries about content or delivery contribute more to speaking anxiety? Explain your choice.
- How should someone be evaluated who works hard to research, organize, and write a speech, but doesn’t take the time to practice so they have a good delivery? What if they practice, but still don’t deliver the speech well on speech day?
- How should we evaluate a speaker who delivers an engaging speech that gets the audience laughing and earns a big round of applause but doesn’t verbally cite sources or present well-organized ideas?
- Is it ethical for someone to use their natural charisma or speaking abilities to win over an audience rather than relying on the merit and strength of their speech content? In what speaking situations would this be more acceptable? Less acceptable?
- Getting integrated: Public speaking anxiety is a form of communication apprehension (CA) that is commonly experienced by many people and can be effectively managed using a variety of strategies. While we most often think of public speaking anxiety as an issue in the classroom and workplace, it can affect communication in personal and civic contexts as well.
- Systematic desensitization helps lessen public speaking anxiety through repeated exposure to real or imagined public speaking scenarios.
- Cognitive restructuring addresses public speaking by replacing negative thoughts with more positive thoughts, and COM therapy can help you view public speaking as a conversation rather than a performance.
- Skills training allows you to focus on improving specific skills related to public speaking, which can increase confidence and lead to further skill development.
- Physical relaxation exercises like deep breathing and stretching allow us to voluntarily use our bodies to address involuntary bodily reactions to anxiety.
- Test your speaking anxiety using McCroskey’s “Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety” (PRPSA). You can access the scale here: http://www.jamescmccroskey.com/measures/prpsa.htm. Follow the directions to determine your score. Do you agree with the result? Why or why not?
- Of the strategies for managing public speaking anxiety listed in the chapter (systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring, skills training, physical relaxation exercises), which do you think would be most useful for you and why?
- When you take a communication course like this one, you are automatically engaging in some skills training. What are some public speaking skills that you are already good at? What are some skills that you should work on? Write out three goals you would like to accomplish for your next speech that focus on improving your public speaking skills.