Facing the Fears Associated with Professional Speaking

By Rolls, Judith A. | Business Communication Quarterly, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Facing the Fears Associated with Professional Speaking


Rolls, Judith A., Business Communication Quarterly


I begin to address presentation anxiety by presenting a lecture/discussion on controlling nervousness with five specific facts about nervousness and public speaking:

1. The Book of Lists (1977) notes that the number one fear of Americans is making a speech in public. Therefore, people who are nervous about speaking in public are pretty normal. Tell them the fear of death is ranked as the sixth greatest fear.

2. McCroskey (1977) divides nervousness or communication apprehension into two types. One is referred to as trait apprehension and the other is state communication apprehension. He suggests that people who suffer from trait communication apprehension are thought to be nervous in many kinds of situations and would be classified as shy. State communication apprehension, on the other hand, refers to the nervousness felt before, and sometimes during, a presentation. Even professional, experienced speakers feel a degree of this type of nervousness.

3. Just because people are nervous, it does not mean they are doing a bad job. In fact, nervousness can enhance the vitality and enthusiasm brought to the situation. Most people think that if they are nervous they are poor public speakers. This is a myth.

4. Unless there are extreme signs of nervousness, audience members are not aware of a speaker's stage fright. For instance, students often complain that their faces are hot and assume they are blushing. However, a hot face does not necessarily mean that it is red. Or speakers might get sweaty palms as a result of their nervousness, but the audience would be unaware of this.

5. Nervousness can be controlled. I advise students that the next time their bodies begin to tremble (or however nervousness is manifested in them) rather than getting nervous about being nervous, they should instead focus on getting their message across to the audience. They have probably trembled before and will likely do so again. That's just how nervousness is manifested in their particular bodies. No big deal.

Group Work

After the lecture/discussion, I inform the class that they are going to do a communication exercise to demonstrate the variety of ways in which nervousness is manifested in different people. I tell them they are going to work in small groups, and each group's mission is to brainstorm (and record on a piece of paper) all the ways in which they, or people they know, experience nervousness when making presentations. I give examples such as going blank, having shaky body parts, getting itchy armpits, feeling your face become hot, wondering what to do with your hands, and the like.

Learners are given fifteen to twenty minutes to complete their lists, and they should be encouraged to be as thorough as possible.

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