Reducing Communication Apprehension

Learning Objectives

Understand ways to reduce your own apprehension.

You may never be completely rid of communication anxiety, but it is possible to reduce it. The truth is that a method that works for one person may not work for the next. In order for you to reduce your own apprehension, you must address it at its cause. Therefore, a variety of techniques exist to reduce communication apprehension based on preparation, mindset, and systematic desensitization.


A man standing alone in an empty gym in front of a row of chairs

It can be very helpful to visit the room in which you’ll speak to get a sense of the layout, acoustics, and A/V setup.

If the source of your anxiety is related to feeling unprepared, feeling different or inferior to your audience, or being the center of attention, there are several steps you can take as you begin to prepare your speech:

  • Learn more about your audience by conducting audience analysis.
  • Visit and get comfortable with the performance space to learn about the A/V setup, acoustics, and room layout
  • Ask questions about expectations, logistics, or anything else you are unsure of.
  • Research your speech topic thoroughly to ensure you haven’t missed important information and to prepare for questions.
  • Prepare physically and mentally by giving yourself plenty of time to arrive the day of your speech and packing everything you need the evening before your speech so you are not rushed or frantic the day of your speech.
  • Prepare and practice with your speaking notes before your speech so they are familiar and easy to read.


If the source of your anxiety stems from negative self-talk, a fear of failure, or excessive focus on yourself, then refocusing your thoughts and creating a positive routine can help you to relax.

  • Focus on your message, not yourself.
  • Perform vocal warm-ups and practice physical relaxers such as power poses, stretches, and breathing exercises both before you practice and before you deliver your speech.
  • Think about your audience and remember that they want you to do well.
  • Remember that the audience doesn’t know your speech. They will not know if you make a mistake.
  • Use positive self-talk such as “that went really well” or “I know this speech well and will always be able to recover and improvise if I need to.”
  • Visualize your speech going exactly as you’d like it to and the audience responding positively.
  • DON’T imagine your audience naked. This often-repeated piece of advice is a myth.


A man in a tuxedo reading notecards

Practice is the best way to decrease your anxiety

The most effective way to decrease your CA is to practice. Feeling unprepared or nervous about speaking in front of your audience can easily be addressed by practicing often and in a variety of ways.  Remember, you perform the way you practice. Utilize the following tips:

  • Avoid simply reading your speech to get familiar with it.
  • Stand up, use full volume, practice using your visual aids and speaking notes.
  • Practice in chunks before you do full run-throughs to become more familiar with your speech.
  • Practice in front of many different types of audiences: single, classmates, family, etc.
  • Always time your full run-throughs for consistency and to ensure that you have room to speak quicker or slower the day of your speech.
  • Practice without any speaking notes to get as familiar as possible with the structure and content of your speech.
  • Identify your own strengths and weaknesses so that you know what to flex, what to expect, and what to build upon.

Above all else, know that a small amount of CA will always remain, and that’s not such a bad thing.

Working with your adrenaline

Know how your own body responds to adrenaline. Simply being able to identify and expect it can reduce anxiety from the unknown. You can also make positive associations with the onset of symptoms. Remember, there’s a reason the fight-or-flight response exists! Adrenaline provides many beneficial side effects to a speaker: it can help you to focus and increase your energy.

One of the best ways to reduce anxiety and calm the fight-or-flight response is to focus on your breathing:

  1. Relax your shoulders and inhale deeply and slowly (six seconds or so) through your nose.
  2. Relax your jaw and exhale slowly (six seconds of so) through your mouth.
  3. Repeat 3–10 times.

To Watch: Jitesh Vaswani

In this short video, Vaswani shows how focusing on breathing can help reduce anxiety and stress and return you to the present moment.

You can view the transcript for “Use Your Breath | Jitesh Vaswani | TEDxTucson” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

At 4:30 in the video, Vaswani has the crowd perform some clapping exercises together. It’s interesting to notice how this moment of interactivity focuses the audience and reinforces the message that Vaswani is trying to communicate. As this example shows, well-placed audience participation or call-and-response activities can bring the audience together and help your listeners feel like they are co-creating the moment.

To watch

In this speech, author and voice coach Caroline Goyder shares her advice on speaking with confidence.

You can view the transcript for “The surprising secret to speaking with confidence | Caroline Goyder | TEDxBrixton” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

Note how Goyder uses onstage props to make a relatively predictable list of tips into a memorable performance.  It’s a reminder that PowerPoint isn’t the only visual aid!

Try It

In this interactive activity, you’ll talk your friend Graciela through her anxiety about presenting in her public speaking class.


Fact Check: Power Posing

Amy Cuddy striking a so-called Power Pose.

Some consider “Power Posing” to be an effective strategy for combating Communication Apprehension. Though the effectiveness of this strategy turned out to be questionable, it provides a fascinating case-study in how the social sciences work.

In 2012, psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a popular Ted Talk in which she described research she and her team had done about body language and CA. Cuddy and her team (Cuddy, Dana Carney, and Andy Yap) set up an experiment in which they measured hormonal changes brought about by two minutes in a “high power” pose (see the “Wonder Woman” on the right) or a “low power” pose (scrunched up, hands in one’s lap). In this experiment, the “high power” group saw an increase in dominant hormones (testosterone), a decrease in stress hormones (cortisol), and exhibited a higher tolerance for risk in games of chance. The “low power” group experience the opposite effect.[1]

These findings became a media sensation, and soon “power posing” was being reported on news programs and talk shows across the U.S. and the world.

However, subsequent experiments by different groups failed to replicate the results that Carney, Cuddy, and Yap had produced. One of the key principles in the sciences, including the social sciences, is the idea of replicability. If an effect is to be considered scientifically valid, it has to be replicated or reproduced under a variety of conditions. Several studies of the “power posing” effect were conducted, and none replicated the hormonal effects observed by the original paper.

What happened next can tell us a great deal about how the social sciences work.

In reassessing the methodology of the original study, Dana Carney decided that her original conclusions had been in error, and released a statement outlining why she no longer believed “that ‘power pose’ effects are real.”[2] For Carney, the methodological problems in the original experiment were significant enough to throw out all the conclusions she had made earlier. Cuddy, on the other hand, released a statement in which she defended what she called the “key finding” of the study: that “adopting expansive postures causes people to feel more powerful.”[3] Importantly, however, Cuddy also conceded that the physiological effects measured by the study (hormonal changes brought about by “power posing”) might have been erroneous.

When I speak about this work now, I talk about new evidence, replications, and non-replications. I highlight which effects I believe to be strongest and most important, and those about which we don’t yet know enough. For example, while I am confident about the key power posing effect on feelings of power and the overall evidential value of the literature, I am agnostic about the effects of expansive posture on hormones.[4]

The important takeaway here is to see how the social sciences use experimental replication to test hypotheses, and how the results of these replication experiments can change the way the original findings are interpreted.

So does power posing work? Well, try it for yourself. Many of the follow-up studies agreed that people felt more powerful after adopting an expansive posture for a few minutes. And when it comes to CA, a little confidence can go a long way.

Further reading: This article in the New York Times Magazine uses the case of Amy Cuddy to talk about the broader replicability controversy in the social sciences.

Try It

  1. Carney, Dana R., Cuddy, Amy J.C., Yap, Andy J. "Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance". Psychological Science, vol. 21 no. 10, 2010, pp. 1363–1368.
  2. Carney, Dana. "My Position on 'Power Poses.'" n.d.
  3. Singal, Jesse, and Melissa Dahl. “Here Is Amy Cuddy's Response to Critiques of Her Power-Posing Research.” The Cut, 30 Sept. 2016,
  4. Singal, Jesse, and Melissa Dahl. “Here Is Amy Cuddy's Response to Critiques of Her Power-Posing Research.” The Cut, 30 Sept. 2016,