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Tips for Managing Public Speaking Anxiety

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Updated May 16, 2014

Speaker at business luncheon
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Fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, is one of the most commonly reported social fears. While some people may feel nervous about giving a speech or presentation, if you have social anxiety disorder (SAD), the anxiety related to public speaking may take over your life. You may worry weeks or months in advance of a speech or presentation, and you will probably have extreme physical symptoms during a performance such as shaking, blushing, a pounding heart, quivering voice, and shortness of breath. The symptoms are a result of the fight or flight response -- a rush of adrenaline that prepares you for danger. In the absence of any real physical threat, it can feel as though you have lost control of your body.

Fear of public speaking may be diagnosed as SAD if it interferes with your life -- such as changing courses at college to avoid a required oral presentation, changing jobs or careers or turning down promotions because of public speaking obligations. If you have intense anxiety symptoms while speaking in public and your ability to live your life the way that you would like is affected by it, you may have SAD.

Fortunately, public speaking phobias are relatively easily managed using short-term treatment methods such as systematic desensitization and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If you have a fear of public speaking that is causing you significant distress, ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist who can offer these services.

In addition to traditional treatment methods, there are a number of strategies that you can use to cope with speech anxiety and becoming better at public speaking in general. Without traditional treatment, however, anxiety symptoms aren’t likely to disappear on their own.

Speech Anxiety: Tips to Prepare Well

Whether you are giving a speech at a wedding, at a shareholders' convention, or in a college classroom, there are strategies that you can use to give yourself a leg up when it comes to managing anxiety. Everything from the environment that you speak in to the way that you maintain eye contact with the audience can impact your anxiety level while speaking in public. Don’t make the mistake of failing to invest time and energy in preparing well for your public speaking engagement. Even if you have SAD, with proper treatment and time invested in preparation, you can learn how to deliver a great speech or presentation.

Speech Anxiety: Tips for the Big Day

As a person with SAD, it is important to put together a routine for managing anxiety on the day of a speech or presentation. Create a routine that you know will put you in the proper frame of mind and give your body the ability to maintain a relaxed state. In addition, learn how to address your audience in a way that projects confidence and keeps people interested in what you are saying.

Putting It All Together

  • Learn to accept some anxiety. Even the most seasoned performers usually experience a bit of nervous excitement before a performance -- in fact, most believe that a little anxiety actually makes you a better speaker. Learn to accept that you will always be a little anxious about giving a speech, but that it is normal and common to feel this way.

  • Set goals. Instead of trying to just scrape by, why not make it a personal goal to become an excellent public speaker? With proper treatment and lots of practice there isn’t any reason why someone with SAD can’t become very good at speaking in public. Who knows, it might even become something that you enjoy doing.

  • Put things into perspective. If in the end you find that public speaking just isn’t your strong suit, remember that it is just one aspect of your life. We all have strengths in different areas and we can’t all be brilliant orators. Instead, make it a goal simply to be more comfortable in front of an audience, so that speech anxiety doesn’t prevent you from achieving other goals in life.

Source:

Grice GL, Skinner JF. Mastering Public Speaking. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon; 2004.

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