Public Speaking & Professional Anxiety: Five Tips To Help You Overcome Discomfort When Speaking To A Crowd

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Here at Psymplicity, we work with many people with social anxiety. Social anxiety can have a significant impact on a person’s life, and as with any disorder, it can present itself differently from person-to-person. One form of social anxiety is Glossophobia, a fear of public speaking. People from all walks of life can experience this type of social anxiety, but often it is most apparent for those who regularly present, for example as part of their job role.

The fear of public speaking (or glossophobia) is said to affect up to 75% of the population, to varying degrees. While some will not often find themselves in a situation where they are required to conquer their public speaking anxiety, people in a professional setting may find they are called upon to speak in public fairly frequently. In such settings, glossophobia can have a significant impact on a person’s experience at work, and they may worry that it could impact their career progression too.

In this blog, we’ll explain more about public speaking anxiety, the impact it can have and how to manage it better. We’ll also look at tennis champion Naomi Osaka’s story of her struggle with mental health and public speaking.

Understanding The Symptoms Of Public Speaking Anxiety (Glossophobia) Vs Social Phobia

As with any anxiety disorder, each person’s experience can vary significantly. Some anxiety symptoms that are triggers in public situations for people with Glossophobia include:

  • Shaking hands
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle tightening, especially the shoulders and upper back
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea or feelings of general panic
  • Dry mouth
  • Physical shaking or a shaky voice

These symptoms are usually triggered by a public speaking experience, either before and/or during the event. Often, those with glossophobia may worry about the upcoming public speaking event and this can trigger the above anxiety symptoms that can then heighten during the speaking.

While social anxiety is in some ways similar to glossophobia, it generally covers a much broader range of situations in which the person would feel anxious. Social anxiety is a disorder where one might fear various social situations. The fear is often about being embarrassed, making a fool of themselves, being judged negatively or rejected. Some symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Finding it difficult to perform tasks while others are watching
  • Avoiding, worrying or being embarrassed about social activities
  • Worrying about meeting new people
  • Finding everyday tasks embarrassing
  • Worrying about being judged or criticised
  • Worrying that others will notice their anxiety and will judge them negatively

Whether you think you might have social anxiety, social phobia or both, help is always available. With professional guidance, you can learn to understand your symptoms and take steps towards managing them.

Mental Wellbeing In A Professional Setting: Naomi Osaka’s Story

Naomi Osaka is a Japanese tennis champion who chose to withdraw from media activities surrounding the French Open earlier this year due to experiencing anxiety and depression. Osaka explained in a statement that her defeat of Serena Williams in 2018 brought on some of her depressive feelings due to criticism received from spectators. Osaka chose to remove herself from media events to help her manage her mental health, and in doing so has prompted some important discussions among young women about professional anxiety.

In recent years employee mental health has been increasingly discussed as a responsibility that many employers and organisations have failed on. Although lots of organisations have made huge strides in taking better care of their employee wellbeing, there remain many that have not. Osaka’s case brought to light that the field of elite sport simply does not provide proficient mental wellbeing support to athletes. This became clearer when Osaka was fined $15,000 and was threatened with suspension from the French Open Tournament all together, for stepping down from media-related duties.

Taking care of your wellbeing at work is of utmost importance. We spend most of our time at work, so if we are not taking care of ourselves and being taken care of, it can have a significant impact on other areas of our lives too. If you have noticed you are experiencing difficulties at work, try to communicate this to seniors. This can help to guide your seniors by communicating what you need from them to help you feel better supported. Some ideas might be more flexible working, regular catch ups, additional training, a reduction in workload, better communication with the team, some mental wellbeing training, check-ins or some therapy/coaching.

Five Tips On Managing Public Speaking Anxiety

As previously mentioned, anxiety can be experienced in many different ways. Symptoms of anxiety can vary from person-to-person, as well as severity. Anxiety can also make itself present before a triggering event, even if you don’t feel you are focusing on it too much, your mind simply anticipating a possibly challenging event can be enough to trigger anxiety.

Below are five tips that could help you feel more at ease while public speaking, be it in a professional setting or among friends and family.

1. Practice, practice, practice

Even people who experience no public speaking anxiety will likely practice things like presentations beforehand. Try to focus on remembering the important points you wish to get across, but not on perfecting how you deliver each point word-by-word. This can lead to you focusing on performance (“I want to impress you”) and not presentation (“I want you to hear me”). Subsequently, when you digress from the specific path you had practiced, this can trigger anxiety.

Perfecting every word can also sound unnatural and less engaging than natural communication. A presentation audience doesn’t even have time to process and remember each word, so just focus on practicing your main points. Follow an agenda while allowing for flexibility and you’ll come across much more naturally and feel more confident. This will also allow you to be more focused on the message you are trying to get across.

2. Challenge unhelpful thoughts

It can be easy to go into a public speaking environment and assume the worst, particularly if your anxieties feel like they’re taking over. Of course, there are a number of things you can try to challenge these unhelpful thoughts. Believing in yourself and seeking support and encouragement from loved ones can make the world of difference. Even if you can’t have your support system around you, expecting success and going into the situation with a positive mindset can completely transform your performance.

3. Use your voice and engage with your audience

Your voice is a powerful tool, and in using it well you can exude confidence and help you feel calm. Try to do some of the following when speaking in public:

  • Enunciate your words and avoid mumbling – if people aren’t able to understand you, it may result in you being asked to repeat something which could trigger unhelpful thoughts and anxiety.
  • Slow down – try not to rush through sentences. Slow, calm breathing helps us manage anxiety, so remember to take a breath when you are talking. Slowing down will also make your communication feel more natural. Pause between sentences and focus on each word.
  • Project your voice and speak from your diaphragm – use your body to help you appear more confident as you speak. Breathing deeply and concentrating on using your diaphragm while talking will also help to move your focus away from unhelpful thoughts that trigger anxiety.

3. Drop your safety behaviours

Safety behaviours are behaviours that are used in an anxious situation to help us cope. Often, such safety behaviours are things like having a bottle of water with you when presenting, avoiding eye contact so no one speaks to you or scripting your presentation word-by-word.

Although at the time it can feel these behaviours are helpful, in the long-term they are maintaining anxiety. This is because your mind learns that you only got through something directly because of that safety behaviour. However, what happens when the water fountain is broken and you don’t have access to water? Or someone has a one-on-one conversation with you that requires eye contact? Or you accidentally go off-script during your presentation? Anxiety rears its head.

Try to keep a diary of your safety behaviours, when you use them and how often. Then try gradually distancing yourself from them and eventually drop them altogether. Let your mind learn that you don’t need these things to cope, and challenge your negative thoughts instead of listening to them.

5. Seek help from professionals in public speaking anxiety

If you are experiencing professional or public speaking anxiety, then seek support. Take inspiration from Naomi Osaka and take action for your wellbeing.

If you would like support for your anxiety, you can benefit from expert guidance at Psymplicity Healthcare. With psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists all working with a range of adult conditions, you can rest assured you’re in capable hands and that we’ll help get you on the path to recovery.
Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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