Navigating The Dreaded Public Speaking Anxiety

Written by: Kayla Mitchell
man public speaking being filmed

Many of us know the feeling of sitting in class and hearing that the next upcoming assignment is a presentation or a speech. A lump forms in your throat as you form anxiety over what to say, how to say it, and anything that could possibly go wrong. Public speaking is inevitable especially in college, and although some are more comfortable in this area than others, it is extremely rare for someone to feel 100% confident in public speaking with no fear or apprehension.

You can’t lessen the problem without finding its origins, so what are the most common fears in public speaking? In a study conducted by the International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences,    the most common triggers for undergraduate students fears are audience size and audience composition. It was also noted that time concerns, personal problems, and having the desire to improve were also factors.

Familiarity helps us to feel more comfortable in all areas of life. When you are familiar with a kitchen, you can cook with more ease knowing where everything is located. When playing a sports game, you feel better playing on your home turf because you have more supporters in the stands. Familiarity and audience size are two of the biggest factors for fear in public speaking because it is already an uncomfortable thing to do, let alone when you cannot control the environment you are in!

I am sure many of us can relate to at least one of these issues. College generally is larger than the high school you have attended and as you continue on in your academic careers classes only continue to become more challenging and rigorous. That’s a lot of pressure! Since we know that public speaking doesn’t end in college and follows us in different areas of our lives, we must learn how to navigate it in 5 simple ways!

  1. Speak in a Way That is Comfortable For You.- Using words and phrases you are familiar with saying and pronouncing helps to make you feel more comfortable in yet an uncomfortable environment. If you try to integrate larger words you might not know how to pronounce without too much practice, you will only be more stressed leading up to using that specific word. (International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences ).
  2. Breathe!!- Having and maintaining a steady breath before, during, and after your speech is vital in your success. Making sure your breath is stable can help not only calm you down, but can help with the overall pace of your speech as well. With anxious breathing comes either extremely slow or fast paced talking, so one deep breath can make or break you. (Hamilton College)
  3. Think Positively.- Visualizing success and not putting too much pressure on yourself might seem like a small deed, but can make a rather large difference in your result. By manifesting positive results and having an open mind, you are more likely to feel more confident when speaking. (Hamilton College)
  4. Find a Familiar Face.- Whether it be a friend, peer, or your professor, find someone in the class you feel comfortable with glancing at every once in a while. A simple one second glance simulates familiarity and security for you. Although you might not necessarily have a friend, one friendly face is close enough! (Hamilton College)
  5. Be Prepared!- Let’s be honest…writing a speech the day before is not going to cut it. By writing your speech in advance you give yourself more time to improve not only the writing, but also gain more familiarity with the wording, tone, and speed of your speech. (Hamilton College)

Public speaking is anxiety provoking and the environment you are in is definitely intimidating! Large audiences and unfamiliar environments can be threatening because it takes away from the security we get from our own controlled environments. Although we might not be able to completely get rid of the stress that comes with public speaking, we can make it just a little easier for us, one sentence and breath at a time.

So, how will you start to make public speaking feel a little easier for you next time you’re asked to speak?