The crowd it cheered for the prefect to come up on stage and announce the yearly academic prizes. As he straightened his tie to get up there on that hot morning, there was a sudden slumping noise and then commotion. The prefect had suffered a sunstroke and had fallen over. Water was brought and people bent over in trying to revive him. And I? I found myself with a huge wad of notes of the speech that he was going to deliver. Someone said I had to take over since I was next in line. But, the mere thought of going up on stage and making a speech in front of the chief guest, the dignitaries and 500 odd students was enough to turn my feet ice-cold, to make my heart race like a thousand horse hooves over the ground and for a general surreal feeling of being stuck in a vacuum to come about.
My speech anxiety had already caught up with me.
Identify with the feeling? Speech anxiety (Glossophobia) is one of the most common forms of anxiety that people suffer from, did you know? And what is rather incredulous to note is a study that shows that Americans are severely more anxious about speaking in public than facing death. To feel anxious before any important event is a given, but when that fear turns into something more intense and brings with it certain symptoms, then we can term it as being a speech anxiety. Which of course puts us to question how to overcome speech anxiety. But before that, let us learn something more about what speech anxiety entails, its causes and symptoms and how to overcome the same.
What is Speech Anxiety?
Speech anxiety is the general fear of public speaking that people develop. In its extreme forms, it is taken as a social phobia whereby people develop the intense fear of facing an audience and speaking. Why? Because they convince themselves of the fact that if they speak in public, they will bungle up the speech in one way or the other by forgetting something important, fumbling with the words and making a fool of themselves, or worse still, not being able to convey what they want to. It is the fear of undergoing an embarrassment that causes for this phobia to come about. But, why does a person end up feeling this way? There could be several causes of speech anxiety. What are the causes that lead to a fear of public speaking? Let us get into details of the same in the following section.
Speech Anxiety – Causes
- The fear of failure that leads to anxiety symptoms to make way. Which over time, leads to speech anxiety.
- An earlier failure in course of public speaking that has led to the conditioning of the mind to associate public speaking with failure, and therefore, the tendency to avoid the same comes about.
- Less preparation of the speech that causes for the anxiety of failure.
- A person, who has low self-esteem and keeps feeding himself with negative and self depreciating thoughts (to the likes of him not succeeding at all) will find that he is setting himself up for failure and that is what will lead to speech anxiety.
- The nature of the audience can also lead to developing these feelings. If the audience is hostile, restless or seems disinterested in what the person is saying and the orator catches on to this, it could lead to the development of the symptoms of social anxiety. Similarly an unfamiliar environment or a very large audience could lead to feelings of the same.
- If a person has never spoken in a public arena before, it could definitely lead to the emergence of speech anxiety.
Speech Anxiety – Symptoms
- A cracking of the voice that lends to an uneven voice quality and lowered volume.
- There is an increase in the heart rate, pulse rate and blood pressure as well.
- Excessive sweating also comes about as a general rule. The hands and feet will get sweaty and sticky.
- The throat feels scratchy and dry and you keep feeling thirsty that no amount of water can eliminate.
- A person starts stammering and stuttering along with fumbling in his speech.
- A person gets very restless and fidgety. Which is apparent in his stance and the way in which he moves.
- There might even be the emergence of nausea and shortness of breath.
- There could be chances that you’ll end up forgetting more of your speech.
Overcoming Speech Anxiety
It never is an ideal situation to be stuck with any kind of social phobia, in this case speech anxiety. It cripples and limits. That is why there is a need to undertake some measures to overcome this anxiety. What are the ways in which one can overcome this phobia?
Be Thorough in your Preparation
Understand the topic at hand completely. Find out all there is to find out about it. That way, if there is any doubt about the topic at hand, you can clear them and prepare a speech that is thorough and well researched. Making clear notes about the same is seen to help make the speech even better.
Usage of Props and Other Equipment
Another effective way in which you can tackle speech anxiety is by using different visual aids like charts, powerpoint presentations, slides, audio and video clips and the like. This works in two ways. One, it enhances the speech and gives it more character, and two, it reduces the actual speech time. One does not have to merely concentrate on the speech anymore and can use that time to explain the speech better with the help of the aforementioned props. This also helps the audience in understanding the speech better.
Practice in Different Scenarios
So, you know your matter and you know your audience and that will help you in perfecting the speech well. But to ensure that the speech goes according to how you have planned it, there has to be a lot of practice done. There are several ways in which this can be achieved. You can practice in front of a mirror to study and improve upon your style of delivery and body language. Another way to perfect your speech is to practice in front of a small audience of family members and friends so that they can give you a feedback when needed. Similarly you can either audio or video record your speech to check for the same and bring about a change.
Know your Audience
How does knowing the audience help? Studying the audience helps because you know their general psyche, what they expect from the orator, what makes them tick and what doesn’t. This can be deduced from a number of factors like age, background and the like. Knowing the audience will help you formulate the speech to make maximum impact on them.
Psyche yourself for Success
Some people are so tensed when giving a speech that they don’t realize it when they set themselves up for failure by constantly feeding their minds with things like ‘I am going to bungle this up’, ‘I’m going to forget my lines’ etc. Refrain from doing that and give yourself auto suggestions of succeeding at the task on hand instead. Keep telling yourselves that you are going to give a perfect speech and everyone is going to love it. This will add up to all the preparation and research that you’ve done and help you achieve your goal.
Use Relaxation Techniques
For all the physical and psychological symptoms that speech anxiety brings along, there needs to be a solution found. It has been studied that using relaxation techniques, which primarily focus on breathing exercises are known to reduce this anxiety and bring about calm. Some people will meditate, others will concentrate on deep breathing, still others will probably listen to a soothing song or take a walk. The point being that each one of us has to find a tool that helps us in relaxing and reducing considerably, if not completely, the speech anxiety that makes way.
When one poses a question to the likes of ‘How to overcome speech anxiety’, it goes to show that they are serious about finding a solution. Let’s just say then that this is the best phase to be in because you are willing to do something about it and put in the required efforts to bring about positive results. With a comprehensive and detailed account of this phenomenon listed above, as well as the different tools to overcome the fear of public speaking provided for, one needs just make the effort and be persistent with it. That’s all. Then no stage will be a hurdle. Not really, not at all.