In this chapter, we’ve discussed Communication Apprehension or CA. This difficult condition can be the result of many, varied causes. Even professional researchers don’t always agree on whether CA is inherent in the person, or the result of what the person experiences or perceives—with some calling it “trait-anxiety;” others “state-anxiety;” and still others classifying it as “scrutiny fear.” The first step for any person to address this condition is self-reflection. Try to identify what has caused you to feel the way you do about public speaking. Careful introspection can result in a more productive level of self-awareness.
Whatever the root cause of CA might be for any particular individual, the first step in addressing CA is to objectively view the habitual frame of reference that has emerged in your mind regarding public speaking. Consider all those “what-if’s” that keep cropping up in your mind and how you might begin to address them productively, rather than simply to ignore them and hope they go away. Go through the steps of Cognitive Restructuring or CR. Consider how many of those “what-if’s” are nothing more than invented pressure that you place upon yourself.
Relaxation techniques, such as “Breathe and Release,” have proven to be effective for many speakers, especially those concerned with the physical manifestations of nervousness like trembling hands or shaky knees. Remember that those sorts of tremors can often be exacerbated by efforts to hold still. Don’t force yourself to hold still! Relax instead.
Lastly, we discussed the most effective means to prepare—which is toward the goal of becoming conversant in your topic, rather than being able to recite a memorized script. By familiarizing yourself with your topic, you become better able to consider the best way to talk to your audience, rather than becoming “married to your script” and ultimately consumed with saying the words in the right order. Practicing out-loud, without a mirror to distract you, is the best way to prepare yourself.
CA is a real issue, but it need not be an obstacle to success. Take the time to become more aware of your personal brand of CA. Take positive steps to minimize its impact. Your willingness to work and your positive attitude are the keys to your success.
Believe you can and you’re halfway there.- Theodore Roosevelt
- What percentage of the general population is likely dealing with CA?
- What are some of the potential issues or problems that can result from CA?
- What are some of the different ways researchers classify CA? What are the differences between these ideas?
- What are some of your sources of CA? Would you classify these as examples of trait-anxiety or state-anxiety?
- How does Cognitive Restructuring work? Does it work the same for every person who tries it?
- What does it mean to become conversant in your topic?
- Why is memorizing a presentation a risky move? Is there any part of your presentation that should be memorized?
- Prior to a speech, practice the following relaxation technique from Williams College (from http://wso.williams.edu/orgs/peerh/stress/relax.html):
- Tighten the muscles in your toes. Hold for a count of 10. Relax and enjoy the sensation of release from tension.
- Flex the muscles in your feet. Hold for a count of 10. Relax.
- Move slowly up through your body—legs, abdomen, back, neck, face—contracting and relaxing muscles as you go.
- Breathe deeply and slowly.
- After your speech, evaluate the technique. Did you find that this exercise reduced your nervousness? If so, why do you think it was effective? If not, what technique do you think would have been more effective? Together with a partner or in a small group, generate a list of relaxation techniques that you currently use to relieve stress. Once you have run out of ideas, review the list and eliminate the techniques that would not work for helping you cope with nervousness before a speech. Of the remaining ideas, select the top three that you believe would help you personally and that you would be willing to try.
- The author of this chapter says that one of the keys to overcoming nervousness is preparation. Make a list of the barriers to your own preparation process (e.g. “I don’t know how to use the library,” or “I have young children at home who make demands on my time”). Having identified some of the things that make it difficult for you to prepare, now think of at least one way to overcome each obstacle you have listed. If you need to, speak with other people to get their ideas too.