Public Speaking Panic
As Sienfeld aptly said, "The worst two fears that men have are Public Speaking and Death, in that order. Most of us would rather prefer to die than speak in public. So they would rather be in the coffin than on the podium giving the eulogy." Public speaking causes the average person excessive tension to say the least, and possible hyperventalation at worst. There remain several easy solutions to manage the stress: recognize its existence, analyze the reasons behind it, and discover relaxing techniques that work.
Everyone panics before a speech, therein it derives its excitement which gives it life. Although tension remains critical for an interesting speech, the stress can at times prove overwhelming. With practice, each person will recognize their own particular stress signals. Speech making is a form of communication. The conversational style remains absolutely necessary to a good speech, yet shaky nerves can hinder the presentation. A solution for this is to write the outline early. Once written, the speech should be practiced in front of an audience with which the speaker is familiar and comfortable. Vary the number of people present, then move on to strangers, or anyone who will listen. If the speech is informative, offer to give a small presentation for elementary students. A persuasive speech could provide an example for beginning debaters in a secondary school,and an argumentative speech has the potential for generating debate in a private special-interest club. If the material is well known, nerves remain calmer since the speaker understands their role in the speaker-audience relationship already and has only to relate to a new audience.
Practice necessitates time; a precious commodity with all students. Knowing and recognizing one’s fears before the speech is given can prove helpful enough in some cases, Dr. Patricia Comeaux believes. Half the battle is knowing exactly what to expect in the given situation, unfortunately this generally comes easiest through specific practice of the speech. If time remains a major factor though, merely talking about the topic with friends in daily discussions can consolidate the points well enough while also effortlessly gaining the conversational style sought after for the speech. An unfamiliar audience can prove intimidating, yet a good speech requires interaction with them. The obvious solution is to relate your speech to the audience. Once the audience understands the perspective from which the speaker is coming they will be more responsive and much more likely to listen closely with favorable reactions.
Body language must emanate confidence for a speech to be well recieved. In the "Do’s and Don’t’s for Crisis Times", the author suggests that the individual "breathe slowly and deeply. A lot of panic symptoms are caused by hyperventalation." Before the speech begins the body will relax quickly with a couple deep breaths. Breathe out completely though, hyperventalation is caused by too much oxygen getting into the system, and not enough getting out. Hyperventalation remains the worst case scenario, nevertheless, common nervousness can just as easily be controlled through even breathing.
Another possible relaxant would be for the speaker to familiarize themselves with the environment in which they are to speak before they are actually put on the spot. The room can effect the speakers mood inadvertantly. Temperature can cause one to either sweat or shiver, both of which could signal to the speaker that they are becoming increasingly nervous, which could cause the already existing problem to escalate even further. Becoming familiar with the room before the speech allows the speaker to recognize the difference between their own symptoms of nervousness and exterior influnces such as the existing room temperature. An audience connection can also aid in relieving tension. Coming early to the location allows the orator to connect with the ‘early birds’. Once the speaker has created a link to the audience, they can then choose to speak specifically to that person. A friendly affiliation produces a comfortable atmosphere for the fledgling speaker.
Speaking remains an intimidating venture, however the orator can control their own nervous reactions through practice of the material, which can be even more effective with previous rehearsing before an audience. The speaker should learn to predict and analyze their own reactions to nervousness, learn to control them and, with practice, focus them into useful gestures. As Professor Hanson suggests, "turn that knot into exciting movements, that shaking hand into fine gestures, that dizzy spinning into a speaking frenzy". No skill is learned overnight, with time and practice even the thing more feared than death, snakes, and audits by the Internal Revenue Service (otherwise known as public speaking) is possible.
Return to the Whitman College Rhetoric and Public Address Web Page
Questions or Comments? Send mail to Jim Hanson at email@example.com.