The horror of becoming a bumbling idiot, forgetting entirely what you were going to say, or talking in circles with the strangest body language -is what nightmares are made of. Nightmares, for those who have ever experienced true fear of public speaking, can become all too real. It is said that 70% of the general public report public speaking anxiety.
Fear of public speaking is related to communication anxiety which is defined as ‘broadly based anxiety related to oral communication.’ When we are too nervous, experience too much anxiety and prefer to avoid any circumstance where we would have to address an audience, we cut ourselves short. You may think you are doing yourself a favor by avoiding the entire situation but you are actually stunting your own growth, personal and professional. The problem is that our fear of speaking in front of others holds us back.
The higher your communication anxiety the more devastating the effects can be on your personal and professional life. Those who experience high communication anxiety tend to choose careers that require less communication. They are less likely to be promoted, feel less satisfied in their job, interact with others less, have fewer close relationships, talk less in an interview, look at the interviewer less, receive lower ratings form interviews and are less likely to receive a job offer.The Influence of Diaphragmatic Breathing to Reduce Situational Anxiety for Basic Course Students” by Karen Kangas Dwyer, (March 2007)
For college students who experience a high level of communication anxiety, things don’t look much better. These students are more likely to drop out of school and earn a lower grade average when compared with students who experience a low level of communication anxiety. (Students, don’t give up… read on!)
Now, if we know that a general fear of public speaking or communication anxiety is a real thing, and we know it is, what can be done about it?
First Step: Commit
We must reframe how we think about it. This fear is not a permanent fixture in your life. This is not something you will need to live with forever. You can conquer this fear and it will free you up when you do! We have learned that only through action do we grow confidence. The first thing to decreasing your communication anxiety is to commit to doing something about it. Will you commit?
You now have a choice. You can continue to avoid (and dread) any situation that will require you to present your thoughts/ideas/suggestions to others or you can capitalize on the opportunity to show your expertise. Even if you do not feel like an expert in this moment, you you will feel more confident the more often you put yourself into such situations to learn, grow and experience all the potential that is available to you.
Second Step: Breathe
Once you have committed to work the public speaking muscle, take it one step at at time. Work on your breathing. Yes, that’s it. DO not skip this step. Diaphragmatic breathing (deep, belly breaths) helps in ways that lower anxiety and positively affect your nervous system. Regulating your breath triggers your parasympathetic nervous system which kicks start the calm and relaxed feeling associated with oxygen absorbing into your cells. If you skip a focused breathing practice, you will not benefit from the opportunity to decrease your feelings of nervousness or communication anxiety. This step is likely the most skipped because it is so simple, many think the basic act of breathing can not possibly help that much…but it can and it has been proven that this type of breathing absolutely helps decrease feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
Third Step: Practice
If breathing practices are not something you have already worked into your day, you might want to set a timer each day or adopt a routine with an app on your phone. I regularly practice with an app called, “The Breathing App.” If you have a smart watch, there is a breathing option that alerts you when to inhale and exhale via different signals. Get used to intentional breathing practices. Then, when you need it, prior to a nerve-inducing presentation you will be more apt to put this into practice when necessary. Breathing helps reduce our anxiety of public speaking.
Why wouldn’t we take action to improve our performance when tasked with speaking in front of others? Knowing that you have the tools available to help you decrease your fear and anxiety of public speaking should help you take control of that fear and stop allowing it to dictate your success or failure. Commit to conquering this fear of public speaking, utilize breathing practices and set up a routine to practice, this is a great start to overcoming any nervousness of speaking in front of others! Now, there are a few additional steps that will be covered in subsequent articles but for now, commit to taking action to overcome your fear of public speaking, then breathe!
Meg Bucaro is a communication strategist and college adjunct faculty who is passionate about empowering clients to perform at their highest level by communicating with more comfort and confidence. She is especially passionate about positioning women for success by teaching them powerful communication behaviors. For more information on how to increase your credibility, likeability and influence, schedule a chat with Meg. https://megbucaro.com/contact/ or follow Meg Bucaro Communications here, https://www.linkedin.com/in/megbucaro/, https://www.instagram.com/meg_bucaro_communications/