CIP School in the Phils.


on August 20, 2012
English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience social anxiety, such as fears of public speaking. These fears can have a tremendous impact on a person’s level of success at work or at school, as someone with these fears may avoid jobs, classes, or situations where they have to present in front of other people.

People who fear public speaking often beat themselves up over these fears. However, if you fear public speaking, it is important to remember that these fears make sense. When you are speaking in front of a crowd, you are vulnerable (which can be very frightening for someone with PTSD). In addition, the situation can be threatening in the sense that people may evaluate you negatively. Sometimes, people even fear positive evaluation, as they believe that if they do a good job, they will always be expected to perform at that level. Basically, a new standard has been set which is going to be difficult to achieve.

Fortunately, fears of public speaking can be overcome. Listed below are some tips that can help you better manage your anxiety over public speaking, as well as improve your confidence when you are speaking in front of others.

  • Breathe. Before you begin talking, take some time to focus your attention on your breathing. This can reduce your anxiety and keep you focused before you present.
  • Recognize and validate your anxiety. Anxiety is normal when people engage in public speaking. Accepting the anxiety and being willing to experience it will prevent the anxiety from growing and potentially interfering with your presentation. “Willing” yourself to relax or trying to push the anxiety down will only distract you and increase your anxious arousal. Remember, no one in the audience knows how you are feeling on the inside.
  • Pay attention to your body. Release muscle tension. Don’t clench your fists or lock your knees. If you notice that this is occurring, move around. Use hand gestures. Tense and release. Movement also helps breathing.
  • Focus on your message not your body. Often when speaking, people focus on their internal sensations or whether or not they are blushing, shaking, etc. When we are speaking in public, small body movements or small changes in our body are intensified. What might feel like a great amount of trembling or shaking to us is likely unnoticeable or minor to our audience. However, the more we focus on these experiences, the stronger they will get and the more our anxiety will interfere with our message.
  • Practice. Obviously, practice is important when giving a speech. However, people often practice in the wrong way. People often practice speeches by going through exactly what they want to say, almost to the point of memorizing the presentation. This is setting you up to fail. When people have practiced in this way, during a speech, if they deviate from what they practiced or memorized, they often become derailed and anxiety spikes. Practice going through concepts not words. You want to be familiar with the main points you want the audience to take home. These main points can be delivered in a number of different ways.
  • Have water available. This can help with dry mouth, but also give you an opportunity to take a breath if you need to during your speech. Avoid caffeine or sugary liquids.
  • Plan breaks in your presentation. Ask if anyone has any questions. Even if no one has any questions, this gives you the opportunity to breathe and collect your thoughts. You can also direct questions to people in the audience as a way of giving yourself a break.
  • Try to avoid using notes. When there is too much on a note card, people often rely too heavily on them and lose their connection with the audience. If you use note cards, just include brief bullet points.
  • You don’t need to feel confident to act confident. Speak with conviction and act confident even if you don’t feel that way. Your emotions will eventually catch up with how you are presenting.
  • Maintain sincere eye contact with different members of the audience. If you are in a large room, it can help to break the room up into sections and direct your eyes to these different areas of the room through the presentation.
  • Be flexible with your attention. When giving a presentation, it is normal to lock attention on someone who is providing negative facial feedback. It is normal to interpret this as an indication that we are not being successful in delivering our message. In truth, we have no idea as to what that individual is responding to. Have a more expansive awareness of the room. Notice people who are also providing positive facial feedback.
  • Be mindful when you start a presentation. People sometimes become overwhelmed when they start a presentation because they feel as though they have so much to get through. Focus your attention on the present and effectively delivering your message for each part of your presentation.
  • Plan ahead. If there is a possibility that you could be short on time, plan ahead what can be cut out. Also, plan ahead how you can respond to questions that may be asked, especially questions that you do not know how to answer.
  • Be familiar with your location. If you are unfamiliar with where you are giving a presentation, as best you can, try to arrive early to get a lay of the land. The more familiar you are with the location, the less unprepared you will feel.
  • Practice self-care. Eat well that day. Get enough sleep the night before. Limit caffeine.

The Importance of Practice

Public speaking fears can be difficult to overcome. Therefore, don’t expect these tips to bring about an immediate reduction in your anxiety. They require repeated practice. It may also be useful to start out with short presentations in front of people you feel comfortable with. Try to practice these tips when you feel less anxious. That way, you can become more comfortable with using them. Although immediate relief may not occur, with repeated practice and exposure to public speaking, your fears can be overcome.


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