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Public Speaking Anxiety: American’s #1 Phobia 

Public speaking anxiety: What is it and what do you do about it? 

public speaking anxietyResearch and good common sense have indicated that public speaking anxiety is the number one phobia reported in the United States.  Many people experience public speaking anxiety at the mere thought of having to speaking in front of a group of people.  The main fear reported by many individuals involves a large concern with being scrutinized or evaluated by others.  This fear is usually accompanied by a variety of physical reactions which may inhibit an individual's ability to give a speech or presentation.  Individuals frequently report feelings of anxiety, worry, nervousness, trembling, shaking and/or dizziness when experiencing public speaking anxiety. 

Public speaking anxiety: Thought processes 

Public speaking anxiety has been noted by individuals with a cognitive-behavioral therapy background to involve some level of problematic thought patterns including "all or nothing thinking", and "overgeneralization". You should begin by identifying  problematic thinking patterns associated with your public speaking anxiety and ask yourself "What am I really afraid of?” This may help you to gain some perspective of what is really bothering you and of what is actually expected and not expected of you.  You may also ask yourself “What are my strengths as a public speaker?"  Focusing on your strengths and your knowledge of the subject matter will help you to internalize a positive image of your future public speaking experience rather than becoming too focused upon your limitations and possibilities for failure. 

 

Public speaking anxiety: Gradual exposure and preparation 

You can gradually alleviate a disabling level of public speaking anxiety by looking for opportunities to exposure yourself to mild-moderate levels of anxiety that challenge rather than overwhelm you. Practice developing a positive visualization of making a presentation in front of others.  Also, practicing in front of trusted friends and getting feedback from them may help.  You may also videotape and/or audiotape yourself.  You should always be well prepared and well rehearsed.  Nothing beats adequate time preparing and practicing.  Finally, using relaxation techniques that help you to manage feelings of anxiety such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga help the mind and body feel uplifted and balanced, yet alert and prepared. 

Public speaking anxiety: During the speech or presentation 

You should always remember that most public speakers have some level of public speaking anxiety.  However, they do not let it get the best of them.  Frequently, rather than blocking out the audience or seeing them in their underwear as some advise, it is probably better to see them as your allies. Personally, I have learned to manage my public speaking anxieties through recognizing that I am merely having a conversation with a group of people and develop positive self-imagery to support that perspective.  

You should try to act calm even if you feel anxious or nervous.  The more you dwell on the temporary feelings (which will probably go away to a great degree) of nervousness the more you will be affected by them.  Try to overlook minor errors in your speech.  Overall impressions are much more important than word perfect speech.  You should try to get outside of yourself and connect with the audience and stay in the moment.  If any self-critical thoughts start to surface make an effort to disregard them and shift the thoughts to more supportive thinking. 

Public speaking anxiety: After the presentation 

After the presentation you should temper your need for external feedback with your internal beliefs and expectations that you have already established.  Don't be so tempted by your need to receive external praise while depriving yourself a the most significant source of feedback: You!  Take satisfaction with what you have accomplished and challenged yourself to do.  Give yourself credit for making the speech or presentation as successful as possible. 

Public speaking anxiety summary: 

Public speaking anxiety can frequently be reduced or alleviated through proper preparation  along with some techniques to manage your nervousness.  Positive mental imagery and a realistic perspective of your own expectations and those of the audience will help you to significantly reduce your feelings of public speaking anxiety. 

Some information from Taking Center Stage: Coping with Public Speaking Anxiety by the University of Wisconsin-Stout 

Additional information and commentary by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate 

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