Research Says Knowing This Will Reduce Your Public Speaking Anxiety
Do you fear public speaking? For many people the fear of delivering a speech, talk or presentation in front of others ranks way up there on their list of anxiety provoking situations (some people even fear public speaking more than they fear death).
Many people experience significant anxiety when called upon to speak in public, and some of these people may even seek to avoid it altogether.
And if anxiety, low self-esteem, low confidence or social anxiety are part of your life right now, then the prospect of any form of public speaking can send that anxiety and worry into overdrive. There can be fears about forgetting what you are going to say or freezing up in some way as well as fears about being judged or looking nervous in some way. You may worry that you will shake, sweat, go blank or show other signs of anxiety that your audience will pick up on. All of these can mean feeling anxious about looking anxious.
In the video below I cover a research backed way that can help you to reduce your public speaking anxiety and to improve your performance for both yourself and your audience.
Alleviating Speech Anxiety
I’ve previously written a bit about the research I am talking about today in another article all about how others can’t tell how we often believe our internal states (our thoughts, feelings and sensations) are more apparent to others than is actually the case (have a read here: Can Other People Tell If You Are Feeling Anxious?).
When you feel a strong emotion, like anxiety, you feel it so strongly and you are so aware of it that you assume other people can pick up on how you are feeling. Yet the research shows that we have a tendency to overestimate the extent to which other people can tell how we feel. Your anxiety is not as apparent to others as you may have first thought.
This, of course, is good news with regards to something like public speaking where you may indeed feel anxious or nervous about it. Click on the image and take a look at this video where I talk about the research specifically about alleviating speech anxiety:
And so the research demonstrates that even in the area of public speaking, where eyes are well and truly upon you, people do not pick up on your anxiety anywhere near as much as you thought. Other people are far less likely to note your external actions and appearance, or your internal feelings, anywhere near as much as you may have assumed.
Yet, with public speaking anxiety, there is a general fear that other people (in conflict with the research and evidence) will notice that you are anxious, and that fear of them noticing can make you even more anxious.
“An individual who experiences some anxiety while giving a speech may believe it is more apparent to the audience than is actually the case. This thought—that the audience is aware of just how nervous he or she feels—may ironically serve to make the speaker all the more nervous. The speaker may then believe that this newfound nervousness is itself apparent to others, leading to still more nervousness, concerns about leakage, and so on” (Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003).
It’s also worth keeping in mind some other reassuring research that shows that even if you did say or do something embarrassing or perceive you had failed in some way during your public speaking, other people do not judge your as harshly as you might expect (for more on this have a read of this article: Do Others Judge You As Harshly As You Think When You Mess Up? Anxiety & Fear of Failure).
Reducing Public Speaking Anxiety
And so with public speaking anxiety, as with many other facets of anxiety, you may worry about looking anxious and incorrectly assume that, because you feel your anxiety so strongly, so other people must certainly be able to pick up on it.
In their research studies, Savistsky and Gilovich (2003) demonstrated that individuals asked to give speeches overestimated the extent to which their nervousness was apparent to others.
Further to this they carried out a study where they looked at the impact of public speaking anxiety generated by the belief that other people would be able detect that anxiety. Three groups were assigned, one of which was the control group who received no additional instructions.
An ‘informed’ group were told about this illusion of transparency (i.e. the belief that our internal states are more apparent to others than is actually the case) and another group was just given reassurance but not told about this illusion of transparency. Both of these groups were told,
‘I realize you might be anxious. It’s perfectly natural to be anxious when confronted with a public speaking task. Many people become anxious not only because they’re concerned about whether or not they’ll do well, but also because they believe they will appear nervous to those who are watching. They’re nervous about looking nervous.’
The informed group were then told,
‘I think it might help you to know that research has found that audiences can’t pick up on your anxiety as well as you might expect. Psychologists have documented what is called an ‘‘illusion of transparency.’’ Those speaking feel that their nervousness is transparent, but in reality their feelings are not so apparent to observers. This happens because our own emotional experience can be so strong, we are sure our emotions ‘‘leak out.’’ In fact, observers aren’t as good at picking up on a speaker’s emotional state as we tend to expect. So, while you might be so nervous you’re convinced that everyone can tell how nervous you are, in reality that’s very rarely the case. What’s inside of you typically manifests itself too subtly to be detected by others. With this in mind, you should just relax and try to do your best. Know that if you become nervous, you’ll probably be the only one to know.’
And the reassured group were verbally reassured that they shouldn’t worry about other people’s impressions but were not told about the illusion of transparency.
The results of the study demonstrated that speakers informed about the illusion of transparency evaluated their speeches more positively and thought they appeared more relaxed than those in the other groups. In addition the observers rated the informed speakers as being more composed and their speeches were evaluated more positively.
Freedom from the worry that public speaking anxiety would be apparent to others meant that the quality of the speaker’s performance improved in both their own eyes and in the view of their observers.
Public Speaking Confidence
When called upon to speak in public, many people experience anxiety and nervousness that is exacerbated by the (incorrect) assumption that other people will pick up on their anxiety, an assumption that then increases their anxiety further. Speakers who were informed that their anxiety was not as apparent as they thought were able to escape this spiral of anxiety and concern over their nervousness leaking out and being apparent to others.
That is, knowing that other people do not pick up on your anxiety in the way you may have thought, can mean you are more relaxed and deliver better speeches and presentations to others.
“Public speakers are often nervous over the (largely illusory) prospect that their nervousness is apparent to their audience—a concern that serves, ironically, to increase their nervousness. Speakers who were informed that their nervousness was not as apparent as they thought (but not participants who were merely reassured by the experimenter) were able to escape this spiral of nervousness and concern over leakage. As a result, they delivered speeches that were rated more positively than the speeches of those not so informed.”
And, of course, if this applies in the area of public speaking anxiety, where all eyes are purposefully upon you and yet your anxiety is less apparent to others than you thought, then it is highly likely that it will apply in other areas of anxiety, where the focus upon you may not be as intense.
“In general, then, we suggest that any time people are nervous over the very prospect of appearing nervous, the illusion that they are more transparent than they actually are can add fuel to the fires of their anxiety. An appreciation of the illusion of transparency may help to dampen the flames.”
The message therefore is a very freeing and liberating one. If there are things you want to do, people you want to approach, ideas you want to share or in any other situation where fears of appearing anxious have held you back in the past, then knowing that your anxiety and nervousness are less apparent than expected means that you should take that chance, seize that opportunity and do the things that you want to do.
To your success,
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Gilovich, T., Medvec, V.H. and Savitsky, K., 2000. The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(2), p.211.
Savitsky, Kenneth, Nicholas Epley, and Thomas Gilovich. “Do others judge us as harshly as we think? Overestimating the impact of our failures, shortcomings, and mishaps.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, no. 1 (2001): 44.
Gilovich, Thomas, Kenneth Savitsky, and Victoria Husted Medvec. “The illusion of transparency: biased assessments of others’ ability to read one’s emotional states.” Journal of personality and social psychology 75, no. 2 (1998): 332.
Savitsky, K. and Gilovich, T., 2003. The illusion of transparency and the alleviation of speech anxiety. Journal of experimental social psychology, 39(6), pp.618-625.