Reducing Speech Anxiety
Speech fright is a common problem for first-time speakers as well as veterans. Anxiety about speaking in public ranges from stomach butterflies and perspiration to memory loss and severe nausea. The strategies described here help to reduce speech anxiety (D. Applegate, K. Buchanan, A. Mueser, CAL; Ross 1995). Refer also to the Test Anxiety page for more stress-reducing strategies.
Sense of Camaraderie
Remember that everyone has been in the speech-giving position before, and remember that fellow classmates have to do the same thing you are doing sooner or later. Or, think of it this way. If there are 25 students in the class, and each student gives 5 speeches, you are giving only one out of 125 speeches to be heard in the class!
To break the tension just before and during the speech, use humorous distractions. This will take your mind off your anxiety. For instance, imagine you are talking to a patch of "pumpkin heads." Or, imagine that everyone in the audience is sitting in their underwear. Distractions help to reduce nervousness and make the audience more approachable.
A number of strategies are available to aid in relaxing before speaking in public. A common technique involves deep breathing. Muscle control approaches, which involve tightening and relaxing different muscle groups in progression, are often effective in and of themselves but may be combined with visualization of pleasant thoughts and experiences. Listening to soothing music often helps to calm one's nerves. Deep breathing and muscle control techniques are especially useful because they may be used hours before the speech in private or discretely just minutes before the event. Detailed descriptions of these relaxation strategies are given in the Test Anxiety page.
Objectification or Rationalization
Objectification or rationalization refers to logically explaining the adverse physical effects of stress brought on by speech anxiety. The idea is that if you understand what is happening physically when you experience anxiety, then you will be less fearful of it. For instance, try to explain logically to yourself that butterflies are a physical reaction (increased production of adrenalin due to stress interferes with digestion and makes the stomach contract) and not an emotional reaction (being scared to death). Avoid irrational, emotional explanations of stress.
ACT "AS IF"
Also called cognitive restructuring or positive self-talk, acting "as if" refers to intentional attempts to make your attitude and self-image more positive by acting as if you really feel this way. There are several acting "as if" strategies, some that are used before and some that are used during a speech.
Channel Excess Tension
Release extra energy and tension before the speech by exercising or using relaxation techniques. While waiting in the room to give the speech, try deep breathing techniques, yawning, or slightly "lifting or pressing your chair" to relieve pressure (Ross 1995). Set aside time before the speech to practice walking from your chair to the podium or stage. Discipline yourself to temporarily put your fears out of mind and focus on the task at hand.
During the speech, channel excess tension by moving a step to the left or right after each section of the speech, by raising a book or note card at each transition, by using and manipulating visual aids, or by moving your foot behind the podium where it will not be seen. When using these strategies during the speech, precise timing is imperative.
Select Speech Topics Carefully
One way to reduce stress is to select a speech topic that is interesting to you or that you know about already. When you are interested in your subject, that enthusiasm will come across in your tone of voice and expressions.
Help Your Memory
Some speech anxiety arises because the speaker fears he or she will forget the speech. Help your memory by using the following strategies before or during the speech.
Be as realistic as possible when you approach the speaking event. Appraise the audience realistically, taking into account ages, educational background, beliefs, attitudes, and other demographic factors. Be sure that you completely understand the requirements and expectations of the speech assignment; in other words, know the audience, the physical and psychological contexts, and possible distractions. Evaluate your role in the communication process.
Preparation and Practice
Anxiety often arises because the speaker is unprepared or hasn't adequately practiced the speech. Prepare outlines, note cards, and visual aids well in advance. Budget ample time to practice with a friend, in front of a mirror, into a tape recorder, or on video. Whenever possible, practice in the actual room where you will deliver the speech. Practice builds confidence and helps to reduce stress. Practice and preparation are relatively easy solutions to the problem of speech anxiety - all it takes in time and planning!