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Arlin Cuncic

Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

By January 10, 2008

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Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he joked that most people would rather be in the casket at a funeral than giving the eulogy. While most people become nervous at the thought of giving a speech or presentation, those with social anxiety disorder (SAD) may experience a complete meltdown if faced with giving a talk in public.

What can be done to overcome a phobia of public speaking? If the fear is persistent, accompanied by severe physical symptoms and is interfering with your day-to-day functioning, a diagnosis of SAD may be warranted. Treatment options such as systematic desensitization and cognitive-behavioral therapy have a good history of success with public speaking anxiety. There are also many public speaking strategies that you can use on your own to reduce anxiety and increase the chances of success, both in terms of preparing for a speech or presentation and for the day of the performance.

January 11, 2008 at 4:55 pm
(1) Dr. Signe A. Dayhoff says:

While I agree with most of what you say, I have to disagree with the use of “systematic desensitization” for any form of social anxiety. While addressing public speaking anxiety incrementally is an excellent idea, the technique of “systematic desensitization” has been shown clinically NOT to work on social anxiety. The reason is that “systematic desensitization” lets the sufferer do “physical relaxation” techniques which require thought. This distracts one from experiencing the anxiety fully at each step and seeing oneself getting through the anxiety successfully. One does use abdominal breathing during this process to adjust the O2-CO2 balance but this doesn’t interfere with the anxiety exposure focus.

Perhaps a better phrase would be “graduated exposure.” It involves creating an Anxiety Hierarchy of the least anxiety provoking to the most anxiety provoking. One exposes oneself to the lowest level of anxiety associated with public speaking, gets through the exposure successfully, then goes on to the next step.

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