I’m Stephen Lucas. Professor of Communication Arts at University of Wisconsin. My research focuses on public speaking, and American public address. One way to think of speech anxiety, is as a form of performance anxiety in general. That’s the kind of anxiety that we all get when we have to do something in public, in front of an audience, in a situation where we will be judged or evaluated. Public speakers have this kind of anxiety. Actors have this kind of anxiety. Athletes, musicians, and others. It cuts across ethnicities. It cuts across cultural borders. If one’s a student in school, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a freshman, a junior, a senior, a graduate student. Doesn’t matter what one’s occupation is. Doesn’t matter what one’s GPA is. Everybody has some degree of speech anxiety. People experiencing speech anxiety may feel butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, knocking knees, shortness of breath — these are pretty standard for all people with speech anxiety, but some people will experience them to a greater or lesser degree. The three most important things in dealing with stage fright are: first of all to prepare thoroughly for each speech, secondly, to focus on communicating with the audience rather than on your nerves, and third, simply gain experience as a public speaker, whether in practical situations or in the classroom. In addition to larger steps you can take to get over speech anxiety, there are some smaller things you can do. One is, before you get up to speak, just simply clench and unclench your fists or, tighten and relax the muscles in your legs. This will help take some of the adrenaline out of your body. And, one additional thing is to really practice your introduction. So that when you get up to speak, you’ll be able to start the speech without any problems. We know from research that the first 30 to 60 seconds of a presentation is when the adrenaline starts to go down. If you can get through those 30 to 60 seconds, the rest of the speech has a much better chance of going smoothly. And finally, there’s something else you can do as well. And that is, take a speech class. In a speech class you gain knowledge about the principles of effective public speaking, and you gain experience as a speaker. And we know, from research upon generation after generation of college students, that they end the class as more effective
speakers than they were at the beginning. And, they feel more confident as speakers and often more self-confident in general. Public speaking, at the end of the day, is really a survival skill. People that are effective public speakers are usually more effective in business situations, in civic situations, in academic situations. If you want to improve your life, one of the best things you can do is become an effective public speaker.