Understanding Speech Anxiety

Anxiety is an unusual fearful feeling that everyone goes through when faced with an important task. Most people experience speech anxiety in different degrees.  Even the most experienced speakers go through speech anxiety every time they speak in public. 

Speech Anxiety Checklist

  • Did you wish to run away at first?                                   
  • Did you experience a mental blackout?
  • Did your heart beat faster than usual?                            
  • Did you feel your blood rushing to your head or cheeks?
  • Were you at lost for breath?                                           
  • Were you perspiring more than usual?
  • Were your hands cold?                                                 
  • Were your hands trembling?
  • Did you lose your voice?                                               
  • When you finally found your voice, did it quiver?
  • Was there a sensation of butterflies in your stomach?      
  • Was you body tense?

If you felt any of these, then you must have been anxious!

You will be comforted to know that these are feelings brought about by normal reactions of the body to situations that are not usual in your life.

It is a normal reaction to wish to run away from unfamiliar situations.  You naturally become anxious about what might happen in a situation where you find yourself for the first time.  You do not want to experience social rejection or failures so you might prefer to run away from situations that may lead to these outcomes.

Heartbeats racing, blood pressure increasing, profuse perspiration – what cause these discomforting feelings? These feelings are natural reactions of the body in preparation for something unusual or for something extraordinary that requires an extraordinary amount of energy.  There are certain changes in the physiological processes that account for the changes in the heartbeat, in the blood pressure, in the circulatory system.  These changes usually give more energy than ordinary circumstances would require.

You should not allow speech anxiety to affect your self-confidence. Self-confidence refers to a person’s ability to predict the success of what he/she wants to do, or is about to do. 

Applied to public communication, self-confidence refers to your ability to predict that your performance as a speaker will be successful.  If you continue to receive positive responses, you will be able to build self-confidence. On the other hand, negative responses may shatter your self-confidence.


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Harnessing Speech Anxiety to an Advantage

Action Step No. 1

Take an objective look at yourself.  What are your strengths and weaknesses in relation to public speaking? Make a list.

Action Step No. 2

Discuss your strengths with your teacher or friend and how you can draw confidence from them.  Discuss your weaknesses, also, and find out how you can overcome them.

Action Step No.3

Accept speech anxiety as an ally that will help you meet the challenges of public speaking. Do you remember what was said earlier? The feelings associated with speech anxiety are caused by normal physiological reactions of the body to enable you to meet an extraordinary situation, like delivering a speech. So, get used to these discomforting feelings, and keep assuring yourself that speech anxiety is a feeling you share with a host of other people.

Action Step No.4

Develop a desire to communicate.  Do not avoid occasions that will require you to deliver a speech.  Accept the challenge of delivering a speech every time an opportunity comes up.  Whenever you face your listeners, always think of them as friends who are wiling to listen to you, take you for what you are, forgive your mistakes and encourage you to do well.  Remember what was said before?  Your listeners do not take notice of your speech anxiety as much as you do.

Action Step No.5

Learn abut public communication by studying he theories and principles of effective public speaking.  Take your course in speech seriously.  You will feel more confident about speaking in public if you know that you are applying time-and-people-tested theories and principles.

Action Step No.6

Every time you deliver a speech, prepare very well for it.  Your best insurance to an effective speech is through preparation.  Invest time in doing research on your topic, incubate your ideas in your mind until you are sure of what you are going to say, and rehearse the delivery of your speech.

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Characteristics of an Effective Language Style

  • Effective language style is clear.

Observe the rules of grammar

Several English books provide lessons on the grammar of the language.  This will aid in effective delivery of the intended message.

  • Use precise words

Precise words are those that express most accurately the ideas and feelings you want to communicate.

  • Use simple, familiar, easy-to-understand words

Remember that the speech communication situation demands that the speaker be instantly understood by his/her audience.  Since the feedback in public communication is not verbal but nonverbal, the listeners usually do not get to ask questions if ideas are not clear.  If words are not familiar, even if you carry a dictionary with you, you cannot stop to look up the meaning of a word in the dictionary.  Once you do, your attention will shift to the dictionary and you fail to listen to what the speaker will say next.

  • Use short simple sentences

Speech must be instantly understood and it is the major task of the speaker to get his/her message across.

  • Clarify relationships of ideas by using appropriate transition devices

You signal the movement of ideas through the use of appropriate transition devices like first, second, etc.

  • Effective language style is direct and conversational.

Use personal pronouns. Talk directly to your listeners like, “You and I, as concerned students can help reduce the impact of waste…”

  • Use rhetorical questions

How do you respond ton a question?  Almost like a signal response, you craft an answer.  A rhetorical question is one that does not require an answer from the listeners.  However, the speaker himself/herself provides the answer.  When used by a speaker, rhetorical questions invite the listeners to think along with him/her.  Example : “What is assertion?  Assertion is a positive statement or declaration that does not present any objective proof.”

  • Use contractions

Contractions which are commonly used in informal and conventional mode of speech subtly suggest an air of animated dialogue between your listeners and you.  Try I’m for I am, They’re for They are and others.

  • Use the active voice of the verbs rather than the passive voice

The use of the active voice highlights the speaker as the source of the message.

Active:  I promise to study more conscientiously starting today.

Passive:  It is promised that studying more conscientiously will start today.

  •  Effective language style is appropriate.

Language is appropriate when it is adapted to the speaker, to the listeners and to the occasion. 

  •  Effective language style is vivid and impressive.

 While it is true that the words speakers use are merely sounds, they can use these words to create pictures in the imagination of their listeners.  They can use these words, these sounds to tug harder at the hearts of the listeners. A vivid and impressive language style is achieved through the use of figures of speech.  It is also achieved through the use of devices, such as symmetry, parallelism, and the like.

Body Language

Posture is the way you carry yourself in front of the listeners.  The way you stand carries a message about you.

Remember that listeners have expectations regarding the speaker.  They expect the speaker to be confident, in control of the situation and interested in communicating with his/her listeners.  So take a look at your posture.  Stand in front of a full length mirror.  Straighten up.  Face your imaginary listeners.  Hold your head high.  Distribute your weight equally on your both feet. 


A gesture is an intentional movement of a limited part of the body, such as the head, to communicate a meaning. Take note that a gesture is used for a purpose.  Random movement of the hands, for example, are not considered gestures.  Gestures are used by a speaker to describe, to suggest or to emphasise his/her ideas.

 For your gesture to be effective, they must [1] complement what you say through words, [2] appear natural and spontaneous, [3] be seen by the audience, [4] be timed with the words they are intended to complement, and [5] be adapted to your self as a speaker, to your audience, and to the occasion.

Bodily Movement

Bodily movement refers to gross bodily action. It involves place-to-place movements, such as walking from the speaker’s seat towards the lectern, towards the middle of the stage. It also involves taking a few steps from the lectern to the speaker’s visuals aid. It also involves taking a few steps forward to signal to the audience that the speaker has something very important to discuss and so they better listen.

Speech starts from the time you stand from your seat and ends only when you return to your seat after saying the last word of your speech. So when your time to speak comes, walk with confidence to the lectern or to the center of the stages. Avoid random movements while on the stages. Your movements, while delivering your speech, must be selective and purposive. A movement can signify a shift in the idea being discussed. For example, you may stop talking, take two steps towards the right, face the audience again and say, “I have described to you one of the causes of air pollution I Metro Manila. Now, let me tell you a solution to the problem.” Do not move while talking. Move before the starts of a sentence or after but never in the middle of a sentence.

Facial Expression

Facial expression consists of the tension and movements of various parts of a speaker’s face to show emotions, attitudes, intentions, and aspects of his/her personality. Raising an eyebrow or blinking an eye or twitching the lips can express varied emotions. Look at the cartoon faces on page 79, and notice how changes in the eyebrows, eyes and lips signal different emotions. Draw other emotions on the blank circles.

If cartoonist can express varied facial expression by merely changing the eyebrows or the lips, real-life facial expression can certainly communicate an even richer array of meanings.

Use your face to express different meanings eloquently. Some beginning speakers fail to use their faces to communicate their feelings. Their faces become expressionless once they face their listeners. On the other hand, there are speakers who use exaggerated facial expressions. Avoid these two. Do not be overly conscious of the way you look. Free your self from inhibitions. Concentrate on your ideas and the responses of your listeners, and react naturally.

Eye Contact

Eye contact refers to the bond between the speaker and the listeners that is brought by creating a real meeting of their eyes. Each listener thinks that the speaker is talking directly to him/her, to look at his/her eyes. When  the speaker fails to do this, the listener loses his/her interest in the speaker and the speech.

Make eye contact with as many of your listener as possible. Force yourself to look directly into the eyes of the listeners. Single out a friendly face in the audience, talk to him/her for a few seconds, shift your eyes to another friendly face, talk to him/her for a few seconds until you are able to make all listeners feel that you have attended to each one of them.  

Why the Body Language is so Important (Source: Eugene White "Practical Speech Fundamentals")

  • The use of bodily actions helps the speaker adjust to the public communication situation. Do you recall the discussion on speech anxiety in Unit I? the unusual feelings associated with speech anxiety result from the extra energy released by the body to meet the demands of a challenging situation. Since public speaking is a challenging situation, the body releases extra energy as a coping mechanism. You use this extra energy to smile, to gesture, to move on the stage. By using bodily action, you provide a useful outlet for your extra energy.
  • The use of bodily action reveals some aspects of the speaker’s personality, his/her emotional condition and intentions. The different types of bodily action[posture, gestures, movements, facial expressions and eye contact] reveal much about the speaker. Based on what they see, the listeners form their impressions of the speaker. Is the speaker confident, sincere, likeable, prejudiced, passive, dynamic? The speaker’s bodily action provides the clues to the answers to this question.
  • The use of bodily action helps catch and maintain the attention of the listeners. Something that moves often catches attention. While you are looking out of the window, your attention is caught by a flock of birds flying. What do you do? Your eyes follow the movement of the birds. The same is true for a speaker. A speaker who moves catches the attention of the listeners. A dynamic speaker wins the empathy of the listeners. Try to recall your reactions to a speaker whom hardly used bodily action. Then, compare your reactions to a speaker who used  effective bodily action. Was it not easier for you to be in step with the second speaker, hanging on every word he/she said, and enjoying every minute of his/her speech.
  • The use of bodily action helps the speaker obtain the response he/she wants from his/her listeners. By using a locating gesture, a speaker clarifies directions. By moving closer to his/her listeners, the speaker arouses interest. By smiling, the speaker is able to charm his/her listeners.

  The Characteristics of an Effective Voice

The importance of the voice in the public communication cannot be understated. A sound idea is useless unless it is heard and listened to. How can you make sure that you are heard and listened to?

What are the characteristics of an effective voice?

  • An effective voice is audible. Audibility refers to the vocal projection that guarantees that what the speaker says is heard without strain on the part of the listeners. The speaker has to adjust the volume of his/her voice to the occasion. Will the occasion be held in an enclosed room? Does the size of the room necessitate the use of a public address system? Will a public address system be provided? Will the occasions be held outdoors? Whatever the occasion might be, you should make sure that you are easily heard by the listeners. 
  • An effective voice is pleasant. Pleasantness refers to certain positive characteristics associated with the voice of the speaker. A pleasant voice is described as mellow, resonant , and well modulated. A pleasant voice is either shrill nor harsh. It is neither throaty nor nasalised. 
  • An effective voice is fluent. Fluency refers to the smooth, easy and ready flow language. Fluency depends on the speaker’s use of an appropriate rate of speaking and timely pauses. The rate of speaking depends on the ideas being discussed. Important ideas should be presented in a deliberate manner. The speaker, therefore, adopts a slower pace of speaking. The rate can be faster if the ideas being presented are not too important. The speaker’s speech should be free from meaningless sounds such “ah” “eh” “mmm,”  or unnecessary words, such as “okay” and “bale.” These sounds are usually used to fill the silence the speaker goes through while thinking. Remember that there is nothing wrong in pausing to think of what to say next. Just make sure that the pauses come only after thought units, not in the middle of thought units. 
  • An effective voice is flexible. Flexibility refers to the variation in the use of pitch, volume, rate and quality to express the speaker’s different thoughts, emotions and meanings.




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