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What is Anxiety in Public Speaking?

Anxiety in Public Speaking is what you feel when you get up to give a speech in front of an audience. It’s a panicky feeling associated with physical sensations that are all too painfully familiar to those affected - increased heart and breathing rates, increased adrenaline, over-rapid reactions, and a tension in the shoulder and neck area. These bodily changes can affect the voice, making it sound tremulous, or disjointed by over-rapid breathing, a rapid heart rate, dry mouth and sweaty palms. Most people list Anxiety in Public Speaking or “stage fright” as one of the things they fear most.

Ten top causes for Anxiety in Public Speaking

  1. A lack of preparation.

  2. Feeling that you have either too few or too many points to cover in the allotted time period.

  3. Worried that your audience is overly critical.

  4. Fear that you won’t be entertaining or interesting and people will walk out.

  5. Trying to emulate other speakers rather than simply being you.

  6. Being fearful of potential negative outcomes.

  7. Stuttering or difficulty finding words.

  8. Spending too much time over-preparing instead of developing confidence and trust in your natural ability to succeed.

  9. Dislike being the center of attention

  10. Low self-confidence

Basic Strategies for Conquering Anxiety in Public Speaking

The simplest strategy for a successful public speaking outcome means following the three Ps: Preparation, Planning, and Practice.

Preparation: Get control of your body’s ability to relax on command. A daily regimen of aerobic exercise or yoga will teach you this. Relaxation begins with your breathing, which is the basis for clear thinking and a confident sounding voice.

Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a second, and then breathe out slowly. At the same time try and relax your arms, shoulders and hands - let them go floppy. Repeat this as often as you can so your ability to control relaxation it’s automatic by the before you start to speak.

Planning: This step involves knowing the purpose of your presentation and what your audience needs to know. Learn about your audience: How many will you be speaking to? Why will they be there? What is their prior knowledge? What are their expectations? Select two or three main points. Consider the time you have been allotted and how much you can reasonably cover in that time. Do your research on the subject. Dig deep to find information on the topic that most people in your audience wouldn’t already know. Be able to substantiate your claims with studies or surveys.

Practice: Rehearse your presentation reading aloud from a narrative or speaking from your key points. Practice with your slides or in tandem with the handout you might be using. If you get stuck for words, use a cheat sheet of points or pivot phrases that can keep the ideas flowing. Use a tape recorder so you can listen to yourself. This will identify how much you vary the tone of your voice, any points you might want to emphasize, and the amount of enthusiasm you communicate.

Make up a list of ten questions that would likely be asked. Tape these questions and allow 20-30 seconds to answer them. This will improve your confidence to think quickly and answer succinctly, thus putting the focus on informing your audience versus becoming anxious.

Medical Treatment

Beta Blockers, an old blood pressure drug - they can take the edge off Anxiety in Public Speaking. Beta blockers aren't habit forming, they are inexpensive and teeny doses right before a speech can stop the huge flow of adrenaline that occurs with anxiety. Discuss with your doctor the possibility of trying a “test dose” prior to presentation day to make sure you have no negative side-effects. The major side effect of the blood pressure drugs called beta blockers is that they may affect the way you think - slow you down a little - but they do make you calmer. Hypnosis, relaxation training and exercise have also been shown to decrease public speaking fear. But overall, mentally changing the way to perceive yourself as a public speaker is the best medicine.

Home remedies like caffeine (found in colas, coffee, and chocolate) can increase the likelihood of feelings of anxiety. Alcohol and marijuana can dehydrate you and affect your energy level needed for an upbeat performance. Very low blood sugar (from not eating) can cause feelings of anxiety, and food allergies can cause depressed feelings.


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