Public Speaking Anxiety

Contact Information

The Counseling Center will be located in the Student Health Services building until mid-August 2018.

Phone: 715/232-2468
Fax: 715/232-2111

We are unable to schedule appointments via e-mail.

Please call or stop by our office to schedule.

Office Hours
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Schedule an Appointment
Call 715/232-2468 or
Go to Student Health Services


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What is Public Speaking Anxiety?

Public speaking anxiety, often referred to as speech anxiety or stage fright, involves a central fear of being scrutinized or evaluated by others. This fear is often accompanied by a variety of physical and emotional reactions that can significantly interfere with a person's ability to successfully give a speech or presentation, including intense feelings of anxiety, worry, nervousness, trembling or shaking, sweating, and/or dizziness. 

Thought Patterns and Ways to Change

Examples of problematic thought patterns and ideas for changing these patterns are listed below:

Problematic Thought Patterns and Ways to Change Thought Pattern

 Idea for Change
 All or Nothing Thinking  When things are seen in black and white terms.  If your presentation falls short of perfect, you see yourself and the presentation as a total failure.  Try to remember that no "perfect" presentation really exists.  Instead, concentrate on what you did well.  Be careful not to criticize yourself too harshly.
 Over generalization  When a single negative event is seen as a never-ending pattern of failure.  After giving one speech that was not successful, you assume any other speech you give in the future will also be unsuccessful.  Remind yourself that a single unsuccessful speech does not automatically mean future speeches will be unsuccessful.
 Jumping to Conclusions  When a negative conclusion about an event is reached without facts to support this conclusion.  You conclude that you failed your speech, although you ended up getting a B-.  Take a "wait and see" approach before assuming the worst.
 Fortune Telling   The tendency to anticipate that things will turn out badly, no matter how much practice or rehearsal is done.  You conclude a week before your speech that you will "bomb", despite the fact that you have practiced the speech in front of others numerous times.  Try not to underestimate the effectiveness of daily rehearsal and practice.

What steps can I take to manage/cope with public speaking anxiety?

Step 1: Self-Assessment

  • Begin by identifying problematic thinking patterns (such as those described previously).
  • Ask yourself, "What am I really afraid of?" Doing so may help you gain a more realistic perspective into the realities of what is expected and what is not expected.
  • Ask yourself, "What are my strengths as a public speaker?" In other words, do not overlook the strengths you offer and avoid becoming too focused upon limitations.

Step 2: Gradual Exposure and Preparation

  • Look for opportunities to expose yourself to mild-moderate levels of anxiety that challenge, but do not overwhelm, your ability to succeed. Consider developing a positive visualization of yourself giving a successful class speech or presentation.
  • Practice in front of trusted friends. Review feedback with your friend and make any adjustments accordingly.
  • Video or audiotape yourself. Watch yourself and give yourself constructive feedback, including what was done well and what needs to be improved.
  • Be thoroughly prepared and rehearsed. Nothing replaces adequate time spent in practice.
  • Consider using relaxation techniques to manage feelings of anxiety, such as meditation, yoga, or muscle relaxation to help the mind and body feel uplifted and balanced, yet alert and prepared.

Step 3: During the Speech or Presentation

  • Remember, most speakers and presenters contend with varying levels of public speaking anxiety. You're not alone!
  • Rather than blocking out the audience, or seeing them in their underwear, try viewing them as allies who are generally supportive and want you to succeed.
  • Act calmly, even if you feel nervous or anxious. The more you dwell on this nervousness/anxiety, the more likely you will remain preoccupied with it.
  • Try to overlook minor errors during the speech/presentation. Overall impressions are more important to the audience than a word-perfect speech.
  • Consider speaking as an opportunity, rather than something you are forced to do.
  • Get outside of yourself and connect with the audience. Stay in the moment.
  • If self-critical thoughts start to surface, make an effort to switch off the left brain's "critical observer," and try switching on the right brain's "passive, supportive observer."

Step 4: After the Speech or Presentation

  • Temper external feedback with internal beliefs and expectations you have established in Steps 1 and 2.
  • Asking others afterwards, "how did I do?" without first asking yourself may deprive yourself of a very significant source of feedback: You!
  • Above all else, take satisfaction in what you have accomplished. Give yourself credit for making the speech or presentation as successful as possible.

Other Self-Help Methods

  • Slow, deep abdominal breathing, especially before the speech or presentation.
  • Moderate intake of caffeine, nicotine, other substances throughout the semester.
  • Moderate exercise, adequate nutrition throughout the semester.

Are there other resources available?

Yes, one of these resources is talking to someone who is trained to listen and to help you discover the most effective way to manage public speaking anxiety. If you are a student at UW-Stout, you are welcome to make an appointment with a counselor at the University Counseling Center, phone 232-2468, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Bowman Hall, Room 410. We'd be happy to help.

Other examples of self-help resources that address public speaking and preparing for a successful presentation are listed below.

Available at the University Counseling Center:

  • Beyond the Relaxation Response by H. Benson
  • The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by M. Davis

Available at UW-Stout's Library

  • The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen Lucas
  • Dynamic Business Presentations (videotape) by J. Stowell
  • How to Prepare for a Powerful Presentation (videotape) by W. Hendricks
  • Secrets of Powerful Presentations by W. Hendricks
  • High Impact Presentations (text and videotape) by R.W. Pike
  • How to Say It Best: Choice Words, Phrases, and Model Speeches by J. Griffin