Afraid of Public Speaking?
Get Help Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking
Of all the activities that people admit to being anxious about, public speaking is at the top of practically everyone’s list. As a psychologist in Brooklyn for many years, doing counseling using cognitive behavioral therapy, I have some stories to illustrate that fear.
At a function at my son’s school a number of years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a man who was scheduled to fly to Spain to give a speech. He apparently had given many such speeches all over the world and was good enough at it to have his speeches simultaneously translated into 4 or 5 languages. Completely spontaneously, this accomplished speaker says, “I hope the plane crashes so that I don’t have to give my speech”. I had just met the man so I resisted playing psychologist.
The second story may be more typical. Visiting close friends of ours when my friend whispers in my ear that his wife is driving him crazy, “do something”. She is a teacher who was told in June that in September, as a new feature, she would be expected to talk to groups of parents about her teaching program. It was early August and she had spent all the time since June agonizing over talking to the parents. She was thinking that she would quit the school, as one option for avoiding public speaking. This was a difficult case because she had a head start on me and was so anxious. I was able, after trying a couple of techniques to calm her down. She did very well, which is why I mention it.
I often treat anxiety in older adults. I had a patient who was a brilliant older woman who was the editor of a local paper. As such she was asked to speak at many local functions. She was an excellent speaker but confided in me that she was always very anxious before a speech. We discussed it and I gave her some simple things to do and say to herself. She reported that her anxiety level before speeches was reduced significantly.
The moral of the stories is, the anxiety about public speaking can occur in first time speakers and does not go away because a person is a frequent public speaker. Learning to be less anxious is all about preparing properly before the event and deciding how you will handle the situation. Unfortunately, most people, even experienced ones, prepare poorly beforehand and have not decided how they will handle the anxiety before and during public speaking.
Public speaking is not always about making a long formal speech. It can be making a short speech at your friend or family member’s wedding. It can be introducing yourself to a group by telling everyone your name and something uninteresting about yourself. Public speaking obligations sometimes come up by surprise and sometimes are planned in advance. If you are anxious, you may not be ready for either situation.
As with other treatment approaches for other problems, there are guidelines, rules and techniques designed to teach how to speak in public and stay relatively calm. The specific treatment plan depends on the reasons for an individual’s anxiety and other aspects of the problem. In general, preparing properly by knowing what you intend to say and by saying positive rather than negative sentences, is the key.
Dr. Merny Schwartz is a dedicated and caring licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist serving patients in Brooklyn, NY for more than 35 years.
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Dr. Merny Schwartz, PhD