Public speaking anxiety is a specific social anxiety which has been shown to affect 30 to 43 percent of the total US population.
These individuals claimed that this is their number one fear – over heights, sickness, death, etc.
Yet so much of professional and personal responsibilities demand that one is a good and confident public speaker…
When looking at this statistics it is not a surprise to know that many worry when they are about to give a public presentation or they avoid it all together.
If they cannot avoid it, then they “survive” through it with extreme discomfort.
The fear of getting up in front of a crowd can be source of great psychological distress, which further fuels the fear that one will make serious mistakes when they speak.
It is not surprising to note that people who are otherwise comfortable in other social situation would feel so immobilized and fearful when they have to get in front of a group.
This kind of performance anxiety which includes stage fright, public speaking anxiety, or audience anxiety is very familiar even amongst professional whose job it is to perform on stage.
What are the physiological responses of public speaking anxiety
Research shows that when people have performance anxiety, including public speaking anxiety, they experience extreme physiological changes in the anticipation or during the performance.
These changes include increased heartbeats, cardiac abnormalities such as palpitations, increase in level of neurotransmitters, and increase in blood pressure.
Research has also known that people with social phobia show a high activation of right cerebral hemispheres, demonstrating extreme intensity of their fear. This activation can negatively affect both the logical and verbal preparation for the speaking task.
These bodily changes result in some or all of following cardiovascular symptoms: an awareness of increased heart rate; blushing; feeling of light-headedness followed by a fear of fainting; nauseous feelings; tremors; etc.
In addition to physiological symptoms, many patients also experience racing thoughts that envision that they will fail, faint, or about to be humiliated.
All of these psychological and physiological responses combine to illicit feelings of fear of the performance or the humiliation when and if the performance gets messed up.
Along with this behaviour, performance or public speaking anxietydoes not only result from the actual performance but also from the anticipation of performing.
This is then referred to as the “anticipatory anxiety” as people worry about the upcoming public speaking task and the catastrophe that can occur once they start speaking.
It is interesting to note that even the most experienced performers have the physical responses of fear such as rapid heart rate, palpitations, shakiness before they go up to perform, even when they are so used to performing.
This means that all people experience these responses whey they perform, but only people with social phobia interpret these responses as fear.
They have anxiety-provoking thoughts such as inadequacy, anticipation of punishment, criticism, and loss of stature in front of the audience in case they make mistakes.
One may want to question why exactly does our body have all these responses when we experience public speaking anxiety. The only possible answer is the performing in front of people arouses those primitive feelings of dominance / submission on a subconscious level.
Performance is seen as open display of performer’s strength, skill, and perhaps self-worth. In some way it is seen as an attempt for increased status or a challenge to one’s peers and superiors.
Such risk of open display is open to negative judgments and criticism, resulting in potential loss of status. In short, public speaking invites the door to being evaluated by your peers.
Most importantly, when one is public speaking there is no opportunity for immediate feedback.
One has to wait for the audience’s reaction until the end the performance, thus building this anticipation of being judged and perceived in a negative way.