Wobbly knees. A thudding heart. And a blank mind. Oh, the horror of stage fright! Public speaking anxiety aka glossophobia is more widespread than you would think.1 Whether you’re a student or an older adult working your way up the career ladder, public speaking anxiety can negatively impact your life by disabling your capacity to communicate effectively.
But then, worry not. There are ways and ways to get over the fear of making what is, after all, … just a speech!
Levels Of Anxiety
One study condenses this well for us! Over time, researchers surveying university students gained insights into the nature and levels of stress involved in public speaking anxiety. They noted:
- A relatively high level of anxiety registers when the public speaking event is announced.
- Typically, students again start feeling anxious about a fortnight before the date of the event, anticipating the worst.
- Anxiety is at its peak at the start of the speech, manifesting as shaky hands and legs and trembling voice. The speakers are often surprised at these external symptoms, especially if they weren’t aware of the anxiety before the speech!
- Anxiety dips to a low when students are fully absorbed in preparing for their speech.
- This study also observed that women expressed a greater degree of anxiety than men in anticipation of their public speaking event. 2
What Causes Public Speaking Anxiety?
A Jolt From The Past: One reason could be an unhappy experience of public speaking from the past. The memory of that remains horribly alive and threatens your self-esteem in the present. Perhaps you fumbled for words and someone in the audience laughed. You may have blanked out on important ideas. Whatever may have happened, you internalized a negative thought: that you are unintelligent or cut a sorry figure when you speak in public.
Wobbly Role Models: While studying public speakers as possible role models, have you been watching people who seem nervous or fumble for words? If so, it’s likely that you’ve started to relate to them rather than other, more confident and savvy speakers. By identifying yourself with below par speakers, you’re prone to convincing yourself that you are equally flawed and, hence, likely to embarrass yourself before an audience.
High Expectations: Are you holding yourself to impossible standards? For instance, you may want to win over every member of your audience. Or perhaps you think that you must deliver the “perfect” speech. These are unrealistic expectations that raise anxiety levels and eventually prove counterproductive.3
Getting Over Public Speaking Anxiety
1. Analyze Your Fears
List the issues that induce anxiety or stress within you. Alongside each item, write down ways in which you think you can confront these bogeys.
2. Relax With Deep Breathing
Practice yoga-style deep breathing. Inhale through your nose till your belly expands fully and expel air while sucking in your abdomen, s..l..o..w..l..y. Do these breathing exercises while practicing for your speaking event, just before you walk on stage, and even during your speech.
Another cool breathing technique to overcome anxiety during speaking practice is the calming sigh. Inhale slowly till your lungs are filled with air. Exhale with an “aaaahhhhhhh” – soft and gentle. Repeat several times.4
3. Exercise Your Fear Away
A regular exercise regimen will help cut your anxiety level by half. Think aerobics, jogging, or any form of exercise that fully works your heart and lungs.5 The Anxiety And Depression Association Of America states that regular aerobic exercise reduces anxiety levels, improves and stabilizes your mood, and boosts self-esteem. Just five minutes into your morning walk or jog and these benefits start kicking in!6
4. Eat Healthy
Food plays an important role in regulating your feelings. Avoid junk food or anything that gives you a sugar rush. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps improve your mood and sense of well-being, so try including foods rich in these in your diet.7 You can try dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese; nuts like cashew or walnut and sesame seeds; fish like cod or salmon; and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains or potato. Bananas and legumes are also good options.
5. Sleep Well
In addition to all of these measures, in the days leading up to your talk, get a good night’s sleep. When your body is well-rested, your anxiety level too will be low.8
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Before The Event
Once you’ve picked your topic, research and understand it thoroughly. Rope in a good friend and rehearse your speech with them.9
Visualization is a powerful tool to help you forget your fear. See yourself speaking successfully – and enjoying the experience, too.10
When preparing your speech, consider ways to shift audience attention away from you. You could use PowerPoint presentations, video clips, and handouts.11
Scope various aspects of the event. This will build up your confidence. Visit the venue to familiarize yourself with the surroundings. What sort of audience will you be speaking to? Are you alone or part of a panel? Knowing these small details in advance will give you more confidence.
Here’s an important tip on practicing your speech: don’t memorize it 100%! If a phrase slips out of your mind or you are briefly distracted, you will feel panicky. So, only memorize the broad ideas. This gives you flexibility – if time permits you can expand on some themes. If you’re running out of time, you can simply omit certain details and move on.12
On The Day Of The Speech
- Eat well in advance of the event.
- Pay attention to your clothes. If you look successful, chances are you will be successful, too. Wear clothes that are comfortable and suited for the occasion.
- Keep time for one last run through of your speech.
- At the venue, while waiting your turn, practice anxiety alleviation methods such as deep breathing, aerobic exercise, muscle relaxing stretches, and visualizing success.These will help bring down your adrenalin levels.13
- Important: visit the restroom just before your turn on the stage.
- If possible, try making contact with a few audience members before it’s your turn to talk – another way to get comfortable and also allow your listeners to familiarize themselves with you.14
Finally … You’re On!
- Just before you walk onstage, if you become aware of sparks of anxiety, tell yourself this is a normal sense of excitement.
- If there’s a podium, hold it to steady yourself. Feel the solid ground beneath your feet.
- Always keep a hard copy of your speech, in case you have a brief lapse of memory.
- Focus occasionally on kindly faces in the audience to help quell any residual anxiety. However, if making eye contact increases your nervousness, look at the top of people’s heads – or even their ears. Nobody will know!15
- Modulate the pitch of your voice and speed according to the content of your speech. Enunciate words clearly.
New Therapies To Consider
Research studies indicate that most people who have social anxiety disorders also experience public speaking anxiety.16 Depending on the extent of your problem, there are yet other options you can explore to overcome your anxiety:
- Sign up for a public speaking course such as the ones offered by Toastmasters International and get professional guidance.17
- An emerging mode of psychotherapeutic treatment is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT), where volunteers affected by public speaking anxiety undergo treatment and evaluation in a virtual environment.18
From simple, self-help procedures to professional therapy, there are a host of options you can consider to get over public speaking anxiety. Even as you explore these to determine what’s best for you, look out for opportunities to speak in public, as this will help you get desensitized. As you practice, each experience will push those anxiety bogeys further away.19 Good luck with that speech!
|↑1, ↑16||Charles B. “Current status of knowledge on public-speaking anxiety.” Current opinion in psychiatry 25, no. 1 (2012): 32-38.|
|↑2, ↑3||Morreale, Sherwyn P., Brian H. Spitzberg, and J. Kevin Barge. Human communication: Motivation, knowledge, and skills. Cengage Learning, 2007.|
|↑4||Overcoming Speech Anxiety. Stanford Education.|
|↑5, ↑9, ↑11, ↑13, ↑17, ↑19||30 Ways To Manage Speaking Anxiety. The University Of Iowa.|
|↑6||Exercise For Stress And Anxiety.”Exercise For Stress And Anxiety”. Anxiety And Depression Association Of America.|
|↑7||Young, Simon N. “How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 32, no. 6 (2007): 394.|
|↑8||Overcoming Speech Anxiety. Stanford Education.|
|↑10||Ayres, Joe, and Theodore S. Hopf. “Visualization: A means of reducing speech anxiety.” Communication Education 34, no. 4 (1985): 318-323.|
|↑12, ↑14, ↑15||Techniques for Managing Public Speaking Anxiety. The University of North Carolina.|
|↑18||Harris, Sandra R., Robert L. Kemmerling, and Max M. North. “Brief virtual reality therapy for public speaking anxiety.” Cyberpsychology & behavior 5, no. 6 (2002): 543-550.|