Does the sight of going on stage and speaking to a crowd make you anxious? Does it make you feel numb? To be honest, we all have been there at some point in our lives, especially during our school lives.
Public speaking anxiety is ranked above the fear of death. Surprisingly? Isn’t it?! Almost 77% of the people are scared of public speaking. In a survey conducted by the Journal of Education and Educational Development, out of a sample of 50 students 75% of them had public speaking anxiety.
This reminds me of a joke that some people prefer to be in a coffin rather than give a eulogy at a funeral. Back in school, that person would’ve been definitely me. As a student, I was always terrified of the stage.
Feeling nervous, sweating, hands shivering, quavering voices were all very common to me when I was in school (and for years after!). I realized that I had public speaking anxiety or glossophobia as many people call it.
It is crucial to deal with this fear of public speaking so that it doesn’t hurt your professional and personal life in the future.
Public speaking anxiety is the nervousness that the speaker feels during, before, or after a presentation. Symptoms are often hard to guess as they maybe different depending on the person. Difficulty in breathing, forgetting the content of the presentation, fidgeting are some of them.
Public speaking is something that is used everywhere, be it an office presentation or giving a speech at your friend’s wedding. Hence, it’s important to be confident while giving a speech rather than giving one with a pounding heart.
Why Are Students Afraid of Public Speaking?
Public speaking anxiety is not age-specific but the age group that it affects the most is that of students. It is observed that the thought of public speaking is often frightening to students, the main reason being the fear of judgment and lack of confidence.
Students fear public speaking not only because of the lack of exposure but also due to the fear of making a blunder in front of the audience. The fear that they will be perceived as the ‘laughing stock’ is very distressing to them.
It is observed that often after making a mistake on the stage, students start perceiving that as an extremely big blunder hurting their self-esteem. It is important to keep in mind that making mistakes should not be seen as a dead-end but rather a learning experience.
At times, the size of the audience also plays a crucial role as many people feel comfortable with a small group of audience but as the group size increases, the anxiety levels also rise. According to Gamston and Wellman (1992) large audience is perceived as more intimidating.
Stage fright can also cause people to leave schools, pass on job promotions- one of the reasons why it should be dealt with at a younger age if possible.
How Does Public Speaking Anxiety Affect Students?
Public speaking anxiety can affect students in a number of ways hurting their self-esteem.
1. Losing Confidence
Due to lack of exposure, students don’t have enough experience in public speaking. This lack of experience paves way for nervousness and thoughts of committing a mistake. The thought of fumbling on the stage or losing memory often makes them anxious, developing stage fright and losing confidence in oneself.
Comparison among their peers can also have devastating effects on students as it will make one feel as if they are not enough.
A research study by Lucas (2011) reiterated the fact that even people who can easily make conversation in everyday life find it difficult to make a speech in front of an audience, pointing out to the lack of confidence that people face.
2. Performance Anxiety
Performance anxiety can be defined as fear regarding one’s ability to perform a particular task. Due to the lack of confidence, students may feel that they won’t be able to give the speech or perform well in the presentation even before beginning the task. Negative thoughts of failure and rejection start creeping in.
Performance anxiety is very common among students who have stage fright.
3. Impact on Career
Public speaking anxiety can take a toll on the student’s career as well. As mentioned above, public speaking is necessary in all aspects of life.
In the case of students, public speaking anxiety can cause them to lose out on good job placements or even a stellar opportunity to showcase their talent. Lucy Kellaway, a columnist in Financial Times, has also recounted her public speaking anxiety as ‘career-limiting’.
Early experiences in public speaking are the best ones as it helps the students to become more confident. Moreover, these early experiences also serve as valuable learnings for further public speaking events.
However, this anxiety can be dealt with by keeping the following tips in mind.
Tips to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety
Given below are some tips that students can try in order to reduce public speaking anxiety.
1. Deep Breathing
The anxiety before getting up on the stage can often be unnerving. It is important to calm down before going up on the stage as the probability of making a blunder is much higher when under stress.
One way of doing this is by taking 5 deep breaths before going on the stage. This will calm your mind and make you feel at ease.
It is important to accept feelings of anxiousness as it is difficult to overcome them without wholeheartedly accepting them. It should also be kept in mind that it is completely normal to feel anxious before a presentation.
Accepting anxiety can turn out to be a powerful motivator. After considering public speaking anxiety as ‘normal’, one has a better chance of dealing with it. Anxiousness and excitement often have similar experiences, the only difference being in the interpretation.
Hence, instead of saying ‘I am anxious’ students can rather say ‘I am excited’ before a presentation. The word ‘excitement’ has a positive connotation to it, making the brain see the situation as an opportunity and not a threat.
3. Speak Slowly
When under stress, people tend to speak very fast which makes it difficult for the audience to understand. It should be kept in mind to speak slowly and calmly.
The chances of making a mistake also increases when we talk quickly as the brain often sees such a situation as a threat.
4. Don’t Fear Silence
At times, in spite of practicing for enough number of times, you might lose track of your speech pausing for a few seconds. At that time, you may feel embarrassed but always remember that the audience wouldn’t mind a short pause.
You can always resume with a “Sorry, my bad!” and continue. A short pause won’t do any harm as long as you continue fine.
5. Start Small
Public speaking anxiety can only be dealt with time and experience. Hence, it is essential to start small, such as taking part in small group discussions or voicing your opinion in front of a group of strangers or acquaintances.
The best way for this is to start participating in class. Giving answers in class often builds courage and confidence in students.
It is these instances that build the confidence in you!
6. Don’t be Scared of Judgement and Mockery
One of the reasons students are scared to speak in front of an audience is because they fear judgment. Thoughts like, “What will people think if I make a mistake?” or “There are better people than me” don’t allow them to go up on the stage.
One way to overcome this fear of judgment is by knowing that criticism and judgment are only ephemeral and the fact that people will not even remember the blunder you made on stage 5 minutes after you leave the stage.
The fear that they will be made fun of also doesn’t allow students to voice their opinions. It should be kept in mind that mockery often comes from people who have never been in your place or are jealous of what you have. Hence paying heed to such a group of people is belittling oneself.
7. Mistakes are Important
The reason students are scared of public speaking is also because they feel that they are very likely to commit a mistake on the stage. Students often see committing a mistake as something terrible but fail to realize that it is through one’s mistakes that one can learn.
The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one.Elbert Hubbard
How to Help Students With Public Speaking Anxiety?
Apart from the students themselves, people around them can also be of help by keeping the following things in mind.
1. Talk About Anxiety
As the support system of the student/child, it is important to talk about anxiety openly. The goal shouldn’t be to get rid of anxiety but rather to deal with it. As a teacher or a parent, one should respect the student’s feeling of anxiety and avoid belittling these fears.
When the student is feeling anxious before getting up on the stage, saying things like, “Don’t be nervous” or “Why are you so anxious?” might not help the student. Instead one must empathize with the student, reassuring him that it is okay to be anxious before a presentation.
2. Encourage Exercising
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise can help reduce tension and anxiety. Physical activities produce endorphins which are helpful in decreasing overall levels of tension and stress. Moreover, they also improve one’s self-esteem.
Encouraging students to exercise on a daily basis can help them feel less stressed in moments involving anxiety.
3. Ask Them to Voice Their Opinion
In order to help students deal with anxiety, on the teacher’s part, one can ask students to voice out their opinions or ask doubts during an ongoing topic. This builds confidence in students to talk in front a small crowd.
It is only through such small events like answering in class or asking a doubt, begin to have the courage to speak in front of an audience.
Tips to Sound Confident
Apart from the above-mentioned tips, there are also a few other techniques to sound confident in case of stage fright. These tips could be practiced before-hand in order to give a killer performance on stage.
Check out our article on ‘Is public speaking a learnable skill?’ to know more such tips.
1. Knowing the Topic
It is important to know the topic that you are going to talk about. Knowing the topic will lead to lesser mistakes. This also includes knowing the possible questions that the audience might ask and getting your answers ready.
Doing thorough research on the topic often helps you become confident. Moreover, topic selection should be as per one’s comfort level.
2. Getting Organised
This includes deciding the flow of the presentation. It is necessary to decide how you would go about the presentation instead of fumbling on the stage.
In case you are a little unsure, a piece of paper can be kept to get a look at the main points of the presentation. However, reading from the paper should be avoided.
It is rightly said that practice leads to perfection. This also holds true in public speaking as the more you practice, the more there is scope for improvement. Practicing in front of a mirror can also be helpful.
While practicing in front of the mirror, one should pay attention to their gestures, facial expressions and body movement. A calm and composed body language is often perceived as welcoming by the audience.
Another way of knowing your areas of improvement can also be done by recording a video of you giving a speech.
Furthermore, practicing in front of a few familiar people can also bring a certain amount of confidence. Make sure to incorporate any feedback given by the audience.
4. Learn Your Voice
Voice modulation is very crucial when it comes to public speaking. The audience can quickly sense anxiousness or nervousness in the voice of the speaker. Hence, it is important to sound confident and relaxed while making a speech.
Recording a practice speech session and listening to it later can help with regard to voice modulation.
Learn more about voice modulation by reading this article on ‘All you need to know about voice modulation and tonality for public speaking’.
Here’s a fun fact, even Warren Buffett was petrified of public speaking. Had he not overcome this fear, do you think he would’ve reached where he is right now? He recognized that inculcating public speaking skills is critical in order to become successful.
Being tad nervous before the speech or the presentation is good as moderate level of stress is necessary in order to perform better. However, this moderate level shouldn’t reach the level of anxiousness as it is often the anxiety that leads to making mistakes.