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.
Control Anxiety, Speak Confidently
If you live with anxiety outside of your public speaking life, you're also more likely to suffer from public speaking anxiety. Take my 7 minute anxiety test now to find out if you live with some type of anxiety that you need to treat in order to cure your fear of public speaking.
A Common Phobia That is Tough to Treat
The fear of speaking in public is incredibly common, and one of the few fears that is likely created mostly through the unrealistic expectations that our upbringing puts on our ability to perform. It also very often has an anxiety cause, where a person deals with anxiety when they're not public speaking causing them to fear the idea of something even more public.
First, you need to take my free anxiety test before moving forward. It will give you an idea of whether or not you're already dealing with a level of anxiety that may need treatment before you can expect to cure your public speaking fears.
Next you need to start integrating some specific strategies before your next speaking opportunity. You also need to make sure you follow those up with techniques both during and after speaking that will improve your ability to cope with any anxieties that arise.
What Causes Speaking Anxiety?
It is also important to realize exactly what causes this type of anxiety. It is not just the expectations of society. It is also the behaviors that you are doing right now that can contribute to it. For example:
- Less Socializing Far too many people spend less time in public situations. Speaking up is something you get used to. Great public speakers are often (although not always) great socializers, because they get experience talking to other people in public all the time so that the idea of themselves being judged stops fearing them.
- Negative Self-Talk This is a serious problem for those with public speaking fears. They imagine, see, and think about worst case scenarios, responding to every time they speak by over-analyzing what occurred and trying to find all of the ways they screwed up. Everyone screws up, however, so you're going to find something no matter what, and whatever you find you'll use as evidence that your speaking anxiety was 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 causes them to be less prepared than they otherwise would be, and so they make more mistakes and eventually judge themselves harshly.
- Poor 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 are likely going to 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. Bullying or mocking in public can cause embarrassment that is strong enough to affect future speaking, and some people are naturally shy in a way that makes it unlikely they're well practiced enough to speak publicly.
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, but also sleep, healthy eating, and even 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, increases confidence, and reduces the ability to feel more pronounced anxiety symptoms.
- 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 You should also strongly consider 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 increase. Find that point, and work your way up with the number of people you're speaking in front of until you no longer find it quite as upsetting.
- Practice Until You're Bored With It Anxiety with 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're so familiar with everything you're going to say that you will probably have dreams about it.
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. If you think you might have social phobia, start my anxiety test to find out more.
After You Speak Matters Too
Speaking anxiety isn't just something you cure 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. When you're done with your speech, leave a note for yourself to remind yourself that if you focus on the negatives it is your anxiety taking hold of you. You need to do whatever it takes to learn to ignore it.
- 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.
- Replace the Memory You should also consider replacing the memory with something better. For example, if you gave a speech you can make a memory of giving the speech again to your significant other, except give it in your underwear or making a silly face. Replacing the memory with something funny or interesting will ensure you're not focused on the one event. You can also simply plan something fun immediately afterward, so that you're not stuck moping around and letting your thoughts run wild. Try to avoid partying though, as alcohol can reinforce the idea that you should have been anxious.
- 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 towards treating it, you'll often find that in the end you can speak in public to others 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 simply speaking anxiety, you're likely to find it bleed into your speaking life as well.
I've helped hundreds of people with anxiety disorders overcome them, so that they're able to speak easier without as much anxiety or fear. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety questionnaire now. You'll find that it provides you with valuable insight into your anxiety and how it affects you.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.