Commonly known as speech anxiety, anxiety with public speaking is also called glossophobia. Speech anxiety may be part of a social anxiety disorder (SAD). A person with speech anxiety has the following symptoms:
- Nervousness, or anxiety prior to the event
- Anxiety with just the thought of giving a speech to an audience
- Avoidance of giving speeches to audiences
- If you must give a speech, then it may induce physical symptoms of anxiety, like nausea or mind going blank, or it may induce a panic attack
An interesting study found that people with social anxiety disorder, when asked to give a speech in front of an audience, had a longer range of visual scanning and tended to avoid social stimuli (i.e. the face, body gestures) when compared to people without SAD (Chen et al., 2014). So this study highlights the problem with those with speech anxiety…they do not look people in the face, and do not observe for any non-verbal cues from the audience, such as posture and body language. So imagine that you were in the audience listening and observing such a speaker…you would rate the speaker as unresponsive to the audience and uninteresting. As an audience member, you would then slouch in your chair, giving the look of boredom and disinterest. If the speaker does not pick up on these social signals from the audience to provide guidance on how to change their delivery of the speech, then the delivery of the speech becomes uninformative and uninteresting. Basically, you are boring, and this is the worst fear for a person with speech anxiety…the fear of social scrutiny from the audience.
Many people have problems with giving a speech, and even polished speakers and performers will tell you that they still have anxiety when speaking and presenting to an audience. The way polished speakers get so comfortable with public speeches is that they practice, and practice, and do more practice. They join Toastmasters to learn how to give public speeches by getting up in front of other supportive members and delivering their speech. People who are comfortable with their speeches are experts at their topic, and have thoroughly researched their topic beforehand. If you give a speech unprepared, then you will have a poorly developed speech that nobody wants to witness. In addition, do you ever wonder how people who present and speak well answer questions from the audience with such ease? Chances are, they have anticipated these questions, and have practiced answering these questions even before getting up on the podium.
Certainly, you need to determine if this is SAD or just speech anxiety that does not affect your functioning. If you have SAD, then you need therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help to address maladaptive thinking patterns that lead to the social/speech anxiety. In addition, relaxation techniques are instituted to begin the work of exposure, which is done in a gradual manner until you are comfortable with the social stimuli presented. Finally, you may benefit from medication, like beta blockers (propanolol), which can help to decrease the physical symptoms of speech/performance anxiety, like reducing the increased heart rate from anxiety.
Basic message- if you are not comfortable giving speeches, then you have to do the things that make you more comfortable:
- Research your topic thoroughly
- Practice delivering your speech
- Anticipate possible questions from the audience
Research, practice, and anticipate!