Overcoming fear of public speaking crucial to career

Being a communications major, people expect me to like talking to people. It should be easy to get up in front of a room full of strangers and do a presentation because, hey, that’s your chosen field.

But for many people like myself, it isn’t so easy. Choosing a degree in communications was voluntary. Having anxiety about public speaking was not. According to Psychology Today, surveys have shown that people tend to fear public speaking more than death. For some people, those things are one and the same.

It’s called communication apprehension — the level of anxiety triggered by the real or anticipated communication act, as defined by James McCroskey, former professor in the department of communications at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

The anticipation of a speech has been the cause for many sleepless nights and hours of thinking about everything that could go wrong. I fig-ured it was something I just had to get over — that’s what everyone told me to do. “You’ll never be successful if you can’t talk in front of people,” was always at the back of my mind.

For many years I just pushed through — I was able to force myself to do interviews, but they were usually one-on-one experiences, so it didn’t seem as daunting as standing up in front of my classmates.

When I had to give presentations in class, my hands and voice would shake, my face would get flushed, and all I could think about was how stupid I must look and sound. The anxiety was debilitating at times. I would dread getting up in the morning and the anxiety only increased as the time for my presentation came closer.

Even if I’d prepared incessantly and was giving a presentation on something I cared and knew a lot about, I would psych myself out and convince myself that I wasn’t capable of giving the presentation.

But then there was a break-through. Not a cure — anxiety about public speaking doesn’t just go away. Lamar offers a course for people who have anxiety about public speaking, taught by Ruth Stanley.

I had no expectations going into this class. I wasn’t sure what would make it so different that I would be able to tackle my fear of public speak-ing.

So far, it’s been the most helpful class I’ve taken.

There are many root causes be-hind communication apprehension, and it shows itself in different forms.

In order to tackle this condition, we have to identify where our anxiety stems from and accept the fact that the process isn’t going to be easy. The source of these anxieties can be summed up by the acronym BASICS— Behavior, Affect, Sensation, Imagery, Cognition and Stress.

Behavior entails observable acts and habits. Affect deals with emotions, moods and feelings. Sensation can cause pain, discomfort, tension, nausea and so on. Imagery projects negative scenes or pictures in one’s mind. Cognition feeds negative thoughts and condemning self-talk. Stress impacts how one deals with anxiety.

Through deep breathing exercises and cognitive restructuring, I was able to give speeches without becoming debilitated by my anxieties.

The “treatments” targeted at over-coming communication apprehension all seem simple, which is good, because anyone can practice them anywhere and achieve results.

Fear of public speaking is not something I ever thought I would get past. I thought I would suffer from it for the rest of my life. But through this course, I have learned the tools necessary to live without fear taking over my life.

I still get nervous when I’m about to give a speech. But I have been able to coach myself on how to handle the negative thoughts and emotions, and stop being overwhelmed by my own mind.

For more information about the public speaking for people with communication apprehension course, email Ruth Stanley at rhstanley@lamar.edu.

Commentary by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor

Author: Olivia S. Malick

I'm currently a sophomore at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. I am the managing editor of The University Press which is the student-led, student-run newspaper of Lamar University. I have been a journalist for almost six years and it is my greatest passion in life. I love discovering the way the world works and showcasing the truth.

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