When it comes to public speaking, being nervous is normal. Most Americans fear public speaking. While speech anxiety is common, it does not have to control you or hinder your performance. Below, you will find helpful tips for understanding, preparing for, and dealing your public speaking anxiety.
Understanding the Fear
We all fear public speaking for different reasons. In fact, you may fear speaking for different reasons with each speech you present. Here are some reasons public speaking anxiety exists and suggestions for dealing with each.
Fear of being judged: No one wants to appear foolish or make mistakes. However, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect speech and that we will always make mistakes. Remember that you should not expect perfection and do not let a minor error turn into a disaster. If you stumble during a speech, take a deep breath and just keep going.
Failure: In a classroom setting, your grade might be riding on your speech performance. Remember that most professors want to see you give your best effort and they do not expect perfection. Sure, a few errors in the speech might result in a point deduction here or there, but with proper preparation and effort it is unlikely that you will fail the assignment.
The unknown: Most students do not have extensive public speaking experience. Like most skills, public speaking takes some getting used to. Take advantage of speaking opportunities in your everyday life. You might strike up a conversation with a stranger, ask a question in front of your class, or make announcements at a group meeting. All of these speaking experiences will boost your confidence when it comes to speaking in public.
Prepare for Anxiety
Since we know that nervous is normal, we should expect to feel the effects of speech anxiety when we stand in front of an audience. However, these effects vary from speaker to speaker. Knowing how nervousness affects you allows you to prepare for what you will experience. Also, note that the symptoms listed below are not always noticeable to audience members. In short, it always feels worse to you than it looks to them.
Nervous stomach: If you feel the butterflies in your stomach before a speech, avoid large and/or heavy meals before speaking.
Rapid heartbeat: If your heart races when you get nervous, avoid caffeine and other stimulants prior to speaking. Also, be on time to class so that you don't end up running across campus and elevating your heart rate.
Sweating: Many people sweat uncontrollably when they are anxious. Common sense tells us to wear light/thin clothing to stay cool. However, the temperature of the room is not the source of your elevated body temperature. For this reason, consider wearing darker/thicker clothing to hide your perspiration during a speech.
While there is no magic cure for speech anxiety, there are several approaches to dealing with it. You will find a few of the most popular approaches below.
Stay positive: There is power in positive thinking. Approaching a presentation by telling yourself that you will fail is not a good idea. Instead, stay positive and visualize success before you even begin. While positive thinking does not guarantee success, it sure beats a negative attitude.
Breathing and muscle tension: Remember to breathe. Don't just breathe, control your breathing. Take a few deep breaths and then use 'four-square-breathing.' For this exercise, take a slow breath for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, exhale slowly for four seconds, hold empty for four seconds, and repeat until you feel under control. As for your muscles, try flexing a set of muscles discreetly for a few seconds and then fully relaxing them for the same length of time. This can help redirect some of that nervous energy you are feeling.
Preparation: The best tip for dealing with speech anxiety is proper preparation. Just like when you get nervous about a quiz you did not study for, you will be nervous when unprepared for a speech. Give yourself plenty of time to create your presentation and be sure to practice the right way. So what's the right way to practice? Try to simulate the real thing by standing up, speaking aloud, using the same notes you will use during the presentation, and always take advantage of the Speech Lab.
Prepared by GVSU Speech Lab Consultants, Kelsey Hines, & Carl J. Brown
Information partially adapted from Stephen Lucas' The Art of Public Speaking, Tenth Edition.