PEOPLE WOULD RATHER STAND NAKED WHILE ON FIRE, OVERLOOKING a 30-story fall, covered with spiders and snakes than give a speech,” joked one of my students. The fear associated with presenting in front of others is pervasive and problematic. The Book of Lists has repeatedly reported that the fear of speaking in public is the most frequent answer to the question “What scares you most?” In fact, 85% of Americans report moderate to extreme anxiety when speaking publicly – be it a sales pitch, classroom speech, or toast.Why is fear of speaking always rated so much higher than other fears and phobias? And, more important, how can you learn to manage and reduce this ubiquitous fear? These two questions are the basis for the book Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting as well as this web site.

Speaking Anxiety Defined

The word “anxiety” comes from the Latin word “angusta,” which translates to “a narrowing corridor that presses down on one passing through.” Thus, anxiety refers to the concern of not making it through something, like a presentation or meeting. The anxiety that originates from speaking in front of others is known as communication apprehension. This apprehension is both the real-time anxiety associated with actually speaking and the anxiety that comes with just thinking about speaking.

Effects of High Speaking Anxiety

Being anxious about speaking leads to many costly outcomes. Beyond the negatives associated with apprehension, such as embarrassment and inability to focus, speaking anxiety not only causes you to present poorer speeches, but you’re also likely to write poorer speeches too. Second, people who appear nervous are often judged as being deceptive or unprepared because the many behavioral cues associated with nervousness—voiding eye contact, stumbling over words, etc. are also linked to lying or not being ready. Third, being nervous reduces your ability to think clearly, to make effective decisions, and to respond to your audience’s reactions.

All told, speaking anxiety can negatively influence your credibility and your ability to make the impact you want.