Speaking anxiety is incredibly common. For many, it represents simply a fear of public speaking - also known as glossophobia. For others, it may be a fear of speaking at all in any sort of public situation, including when you're out with your friends.
When you get nervous while speaking, your mind has a tendency to cause significant negative self-talk, while also increasing the likelihood that you see negative reactions in others. This is the direct result of living with anxiety, and it is something that you can improve if you treat it correctly.
A Common Phobia That is Tough to Treat
The fear of speaking in public is incredibly common, over 25% of people report anxiety related to public speaking. Even those who are not necessarily anxious about other things may find themselves having some degree of anxiety when it comes to having to speak in front of a crowd.
While a fear of public speaking is very common there are also some some specific strategies that you can use to help make it easier. One of the first things that you can do is understand some of the causes for your public speaking anxiety.
What Causes Speaking Anxiety?
There are a number of reasons that a person may experience anxiety about public speaking. Before you learn how to manage it, it is important to realize exactly what causes this type of anxiety.
- Hyperarousal Those who suffer from anxiety experience a heightened state of arousal which can leave them with an overwhelming sense of fear. This fear impacts their ability to feel comfortable in front of others, which makes public speaking a difficult task. Some research suggests that those who experience anxiety in other areas are more prone to be anxious about public speaking.
- Inexperience with Socializing Speaking in front of others is something you can get used to. Great public speakers are often (although not always) great socializers. If you struggle with socializing then it makes sense that you would also struggle with public speaking. The more frequently you talk to others the easier you may find it to speak in public.
- Lack of Experience This can go hand in hand with inexperience around socializing. Just like how more socializing can make you feel more comfortable with speaking in public, so can more experience with public speaking. The more experience you get with getting up in front of a crowd and talking, the more confident you will get in your abilities, which can lessen your anxiety about it.
- Negative Self-Talk This is a serious problem for those with public speaking fears. They imagine worst case scenarios. They may over-analyze what occurred when speaking publicly, trying to find all of the ways they messed up. Everyone misspeaks sometimes, so you're likely going to find something no matter what, and whatever you find is then used as evidence that your speaking anxiety is warranted.
- Poor Planning It may sound silly, but many people with a fear of public speaking also practice less than those without the fear. That's because they experience anxiety while practicing and try very hard to avoid that anxiety. Unfortunately that may cause them to be less prepared.
- Lack of Friendships Finally, an often forgotten part about public speaking is that overall confidence in yourself plays a role. Studies have shown that strong friendships make people more confident. Those that don't feel as though they're fully supported by those around them may experience more anxiety than those that know their friends are going to be there for them no matter how they do.
These are just a few examples of course. Anxiety about bullying or mocking can cause embarrassment that is strong enough to affect public speaking. Also being in situations like having to speak to a crowd of people who are of a higher status than you (such as experienced professionals or a group of bosses), having to present new ideas, or when you know you are being evaluated based on your performance, can all impact the degree of anxiety you have about public speaking.
Strategies to Reduce Speaking Anxiety
Whether you're about to lead a big presentation at work or you're simply about to go out with friends and you'll need to socialize with others, there are several strategies you can implement before the engagement that may help you with your speaking anxiety. These include:
- Prepare to Start Strong First and foremost, no matter who you're speaking to or where, prepare yourself to start strong. You can't talk quietly and mutter and hope that you'll break out of it and be more confident later. You have to start talking loud, proud, and actively right away so that you don't let yourself develop any negative habits.
- Exercise Beforehand Use general stress reduction tips - like exercise, sleep, healthy eating, or relaxation strategies - to make sure that your mind and body are more relaxed before you start speaking to others. Exercise itself is profoundly beneficial as it has a calming effect on the brain and may increase confidence.
- Practice Embarrassment One strategy that some people find effective is practicing feeling embarrassed until you no longer fear it. You can actually find this fairly fun. Consider doing naturally embarrassing activities like going out in a clown outfit and standing in public, or singing 80's music loudly in the street. The more you can get used to the idea of being embarrassed, the more you'll stop fearing it.
- Work Your Way Up When possible, you should strongly consider starting with smaller speaking engagements and working your way up to the number of people you talk to/in front of. Speaking in front of 3 people is much different than speaking in front of 300. At some point you'll find your anxiety increases. Find that point, and work your way up to it until you no longer find it quite as upsetting.
- Practice Until You're Bored With It Anxiety about the material (if you're giving a presentation) can exacerbate speaking anxiety. Even if you know what you're going to say by heart, if you have any concerns that you're going to forget the content, those concerns will grow larger when you're actually speaking. Practice, practice, and practice some more, until you are confident that you know what you are speaking about.
There is an anxiety disorder known as social phobia that can make it harder to speak in public, and may make these strategies a bit more difficult. However, utilizing these strategies can lead to more self-confidence and comfort with the idea of speaking publicly.
After You Speak Matters Too
Speaking anxiety isn't just something you address beforehand. It is something you work on afterward too. Far too many people make mistakes after the event is over that contribute to future speaking anxiety. Once you're done with the event, whether it was speaking in front of a large group or simply trying to talk to others in a public setting, you need to make sure you're continuing to do the activities that will keep that anxiety from coming back. Consider the following ideas:
- Mindfulness The most important thing you can do is notice how your anxiety affects you. Anxiety makes you only focus on the negatives, not the positives. Use mindfulness techniques such as meditation to acknowledge that these are negative thoughts and let them go.
- Positive Thinking Exercises You should also do whatever it takes to make sure that you're learning to think positively. One exercise you can consider is forcing yourself to write down a minimum of 15 specific, positive things that came from the event. It'll be hard, but that's the point - learning to find out the genuinely positive things instead of letting your brain focus on all of the negatives.
- Plan the Next One Planning your next speaking engagement will ensure that you're not letting yourself simply fall victim to any specific talk. In a way, you need to look at your speaking anxiety like you would anything you're trying to treat: sticking with it until it is completely gone. Planning your next event is a good way to make sure that you're not going to give up.
These are just a few of the ways that you can improve your ability to overcome anxiety after the speech is over. Remember, it is important that you don't think of speaking anxiety as something you need to overcome for one event. You need to treat it like an illness that you're looking to cure, and that means that even after the event is over you still need to keep at it until it goes away for good.
Overcoming Speaking Anxiety is the First Step
It can be a bit of a challenge to overcome speaking anxiety, specifically because it is so easy to avoid most situations where it is necessary. But if you continue to work at it, you'll often find that in the end you can speak in public much better than you ever could in the past.
Still, make sure that you also take steps to reduce your overall anxiety. Anxiety is a cumulative disorder, and if you continue to experience severe anxiety beyond speaking anxiety, you're likely to find it affecting your ability to speak publicly as well.