What Is Speech Anxiety And How Do I Overcome It?
Updated November 23, 2018
Reviewer Avia James
There are many types of fears, but there are a few that seem to impact a large number of people. Fear of spiders, fear of snakes, and fear of dying are some of the more common ones. But, another that many people struggle with is fear of speaking, also known as, speech anxiety.
What Is Speech Anxiety?
Speech anxiety or glossophobia is simply a fear of public speaking. If you suffer from speech anxiety, you experience severe fear when you need to speak in front of others. This could happen if you are speaking in front of hundreds of people or even very small groups. The symptoms can be physical, verbal, and non-verbal, and may include dry mouth, weak voice, shaking, sweating, blushing or getting hives, and an increased heart rate, to name a few.
The website glossophobia.com defines speech anxiety as, "intense anxiety before, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group, avoidance of events which focus the group's attention on individuals in attendance, physical distress, nausea, or feelings of panic in such circumstances."
Determine Why You Struggle With Speech Anxiety
There are many different reasons why people struggle with speech anxiety. If you want to learn how to overcome it, then you need to determine where the struggle is coming from. Once you identify the reasons for your struggle, you can start to address those in more specifics. Here are some common reasons people are hit with speech anxiety:
Many people that are perfectly fine talking in front of a few people start to panic in larger groups. A larger crowd gives the conversation a more formal feel, as opposed to the casual feel smaller groups provide. More eyes are staring at them. They start to worry about what the audience is thinking of them and feel like they are being judged. They worry about how they look; they feel uncomfortable with their body. These things distract them so much that it makes it difficult to focus on what they are supposed to be talking about.
Failures From The Past
If you have a bad experience with speaking in front of a group in the past, it can make future experience rather more challenging. You feel haunted by the events of your past presentation. It causes you to feel anxiety at just the thought of having to do it again.
Lack Of Preparation
When you are not prepared for the task at hand, it can cause anxiety. If you've waited until the last minute to prepare for the presentation or speech that you have to give, it can trigger speech anxiety. You feel unconfident about the material you have to present and unsure of what you're about to say.
Lack Of Confidence
Another reason that people suffer from speech anxiety is that they have a lack of confidence. If you lack confidence and don't believe that you have the skills and abilities needed to perform the task, you may feel anxious. Many people that struggle with this, become consumed with fear prior to giving a speech. They worry that they're not good enough, that they don't speak enough, that they don't know the right way to get the audience engaged or that they just don't know the material as much as they should.
Comparing yourself to other people oftentimes complicates matters even more. Many people struggle with speech anxiety because they feel like they don't measure up to others. This could bring about a lack of confidence which can stem from failures in the past. If you are speaking with other presenters, this can be especially hard. You know that the same audience that will be watching you, will be watching the other presenters, and you don't want to look poorly in compare to them.
How To Overcome Speech Anxiety
Now that you have identified where the underlying cause of your speech anxiety is, you can start to address it. Sometimes, getting to the root of the problem can help reveal solutions. In other cases, the solution may not be as obvious or clear. Here are some general tips one can use to alleviate speech anxiety when it strikes.
Learn Better Breathing Habits
Anxiety is often accompanied by a shallow breath. This often adds to anxiety and increases heart rate. If you want to overcome anxiety, it may be helpful to practice deep breathing exercises. Practice breathing in through your nose while making sure that you are expanding your lungs from top to bottom. That means that your diaphragm should move as well while you breathe. Once you have breathed in, hold it in for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale it out through the partially open mouth. Once you have completed your exhale, start again. Deep breathing exercises can help calm your nerves and settle your body.
When we experience anxiety about something, we tend to focus on the negative repeatedly. We perseverate on it and run all the negative scenarios in our heads, over and over again. You can overcome this by practicing positive visualization. Practice thinking about yourself speaking in front of a group and doing a great job. This can help you build your confidence and feel more comfortable with the task at hand.
Join A Group To Practice Your Skills
If you are in a position where you are required to speak in front of people on a regular basis, it can help to join a group that helps you practice your skills. Toastmasters International is one such group. You can work on developing your skills with other individuals in like position, without having the fear of being judged.
There are many ways that you can prepare for a speech to overcome speech anxiety. Start by making sure you are familiar with the material you're going to be speaking about. Then, practice it. Make sure you are familiar with the location you are presenting in and that you know how to get there. Find out where to go once you arrive, and then make sure you're not rushing before you have to speak.
Practicing self-care can go a long way in helping you overcome speech anxiety. Start by exercising on a regular basis. Exercise helps to cut anxiety and boost your mood and confidence. If you have to give a big presentation or speech, make sure that you exercise the morning of.
Make sure that you eat a healthy diet that can help to keep you calm. Avoid having caffeine or sweets the day of your presentation. Avoid soda or the sugary muffin from Starbucks. Instead, try to eat things like whole grains, fruit cups, and stay well hydrated. Make sure you use the restroom before your presentation.
Take care of your personal hygiene and dress per code with comfort. This will help you feel more confident when you get in front of a group. Avoid wearing outfit that you will need to keep adjusting or feel self-conscious in.
Change Your Focus
When we suffer from speech anxiety, we are focused on ourselves. One way to improve this is to change your focus from yourself to your audience. While you are talking, focus on the friendly faces in the crowd. Instead of worrying about how you look, how your voice sounds, or if you're going to get your words right, focus on delivering valuable information to the audience. Think about how the information that you're giving them is going to help them and improve their lives. Keeping the focus on your audience removes your focus from yourself which can help ease anxiety.
Talk To A Counselor
If you experience strong anxiety when you need to speak in front of other people, it can help to talk to a licensed therapist. They can work with you to help you get to the root of the problem and properly address it. BetterHelp has professionals that are ready and waiting to help you overcome your speech anxiety. It's an affordable and convenient option for you to use.
If you suffer from speech anxiety, you are not alone. While this is a common affliction many people experience, changing it, is within reach. Consider getting professional help to address it once and for all.