The first step to learning how to manage your fear of speaking is to admit that you have a fear of speaking. Since you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already done that. Congratulations!
The second step is to find out if your fear of speaking is mild or extreme. To do that, consider taking “The Fear of Speaking Test,” also called the Perceived Report of Public Speaking Anxiety.
The fear of speaking is common. Research tells us that seven out of every ten people experience some anxiety about speaking to groups, whether making a toast, going for a job interview, or delivering a presentation. The anxiety can show itself through signs as mild as sweaty palms, dry mouth, and a flushed face or as extreme as rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, nausea, lapses clear thinking and more. People experiencing the more extreme signs might even make elaborate plans to avoid speaking in public. Where you might find yourself within the fear of speaking range will help you determine what to do in order to manage your fear.
A recent Google search on “How to Conquer the Fear of Speaking” returned over 100,000 “hits” on helpful hints and guidelines. With all those suggestions, how is a person to choose what might work best?
Again, turning to the research on the fear of speaking, the guidelines generally fall within three categories:
- Phobia reduction.
In this post, we’ll focus on Relaxation.
The main idea in this category is based on the principle that a person cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time. With that in mind, a potent tool for replacing anxiety (your fear of speaking) with relaxation is called Progressive Relaxation. It was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920’s.
To fully use the method, you would sit or lie quietly in a darkened room and progressively tense, then relax muscle groups throughout your body. For example, you might tense both fists, hold the tension for five to ten seconds, concentrate on feeling the tension, and then suddenly release the tension. You would then concentrate on the feeling of warmth and relaxation in those muscles. Allowing yourself to experience the sensations following the release brings sensations of calm and peacefulness. Next, you would repeat this pattern with other muscle groups such as in the muscles of your feet, legs, arms, chest, neck, eyes, etc. And you would take deep breaths, hold those, and then release. After about twenty minutes of these tension/release exercises, you will feel relaxed and very likely the anxiety will be noticeably diminished, if not totally replaced by feelings of calm, comfort, warmth, and peacefulness.
Applied to managing your fear of speaking, you could use Progressive Relaxation in any number of ways. You could precede your interview, presentation or other speaking event with twenty-minutes of Progressive Relaxation in a private setting. You could also abbreviate the full session by tensing and relaxing a few muscle groups on the way to the session. For example, even while driving to the event, you could tense your upper and lower jaws, and then release the tension. You could take deep breaths, hold them, then exhale and let yourself feel the change from tension to relaxation.
This method has stood the test of time from the 1920’s until today and is professionally practiced with their patients by doctors and other health care providers.
In Part 3 of this series on “What Can I Do About My Fear of Speaking,” we’ll cover even more of the categories to help you learn how to manage your fear.