Many people experience public speaking anxiety, but most people are not aware that there are actually multiple different types of public speaking anxiety.
The types of public speaking anxiety can be sorted into contexts and causes.
There are two anxiety contexts
Some people get nervous before the speech, while others get nervous during the speech.
If you’re someone who battles public speaking anxiety, it’s likely that you feel nervous before and during speeches. But there are plenty of people who only feel anxiety before or during the speech, and not both. Despite being a very experienced public speaker, I still get a little nervous before every speech. However, I feel just fine during the speech and I enjoy myself.
The ways to battle these different contexts are generally very similar. Just keep in mind that the more you practice speaking, the more likely you’ll only feel nervous before a speech and not during (or not at all).
Public speaking anxiety has multiple possible causes
Your anxiety can be caused by one or more of the following factors:
If you haven’t practiced public speaking very much, you may be nervous because you’re not sure how it will go. That’s why practice is so important. Even if you aren’t an experience public speaker, you can calm yourself down significantly if you’ve already rehearsed your speech 10+ times.
The biggest mistake that new speakers make is not practicing their speech multiple times before they have to deliver it. My own speeches improve significantly with each time that I practice them. This is especially true if you are trying to memorize your script.
The importance of the speech can be another trigger for anxiety. If you are giving an important business presentation that could make or lose you money, you’re going to be more nervous than if you are delivering a speech for entertainment to the same audience.
In general, the more formal/important the event, the more likely you are to be nervous.
Sometimes, you’re nervous because of the type or size of your audience. Generally speaking, larger audiences are scarier to most people. Surprisingly enough, I find the opposite to be true. Giving an actual speech to few people makes me feel more awkward and somewhat nervous. Partially, this is because I usually include plenty of humor in my speeches, and larger audiences tend to laugh more because they feed off each other.
In addition, the type of audience you have can influence how nervous you are. If the audience is full of serious people, you may be nervous about giving a humorous speech. Or if the audience is filled with people who disagree with your position, you may be afraid to get up and speak your mind.
Some situations are more difficult than others—and any combination of factors that contribute to difficulty can also contribute to public speaking anxiety. An example of a difficult speech is giving a controversial speech with little time to prepare in front of an audience of important people where the outcome of your speech could determine a critical decision for the future of your company. You better believe you’ll be nervous for that kind of speech than if you’re asked to share your thoughts at a weekly meeting with peers.
General social anxiety
Some people are not only anxious when they give speeches, they are also nervous in regular social situations. In that case, it will be much more difficult to overcome public speaking anxiety.
The reason why is simple. For people without social anxiety, the obstacle to overcome is the idea that a bigger audience is scarier. They’re perfectly fine talking to a couple of strangers, but performing a speech changes the context. But for people with social anxiety, adding more people is simply making their existing social anxiety worse.
If you suffer from public speaking anxiety, figure out whether you also have social anxiety in regular social situations. If so, keep in mind that breaking out of this mindset will take more time and effort for you.
Tips for dealing with different types of public speaking anxiety
I wrote a very comprehensive post covering ways to deal with public speaking anxiety which is worth a read. But in this post, I’ll include a few tips for these specific types of anxiety.
Anxiety during your speech
While you’re speaking, you should breath deeply and pause more often. Nervous people tend to speak too fast and try to fill silence. Resist this urge—you’ll run out of breath and appear rushed.
In the majority of cases, your audience is a friendly one and they want you to succeed. They are very, very few situations where you’ll be speaking to a hostile audience. With that in mind, find the friendly faces in the audience as you speak. Focus on them. If someone is making a strange face (such as furrowing their eyebrows), avoid looking at them. It will only make you more nervous as you try to figure out what they’re thinking.
Look at the big picture: what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t do well in this speech? Likely, basically nothing. You’ll move on with your life, and so will everyone else.
The last thing you can do is reframe your nervousness as excitement and energy. Physiologically, they’re actually the same. If you’re giving a speech, that means your audience thinks you’re important enough to listen to. Cherish that and focus on how excited you are to share your message, rather than how nervous you are that it might go wrong. This is why it helps to speak about something you’re passionate about.
Anxiety before your speech
Preparation is key. The more you prepare your speech, the less likely you’ll feel nervous leading up to it.
Besides preparation, make sure to show up to your speaking venue with plenty of time to spare. Walking into the room just before you have to speak will leave you out of breath, and you’ll feel unprepared. You need some time to collect your thoughts.
Listening to pump up music is another way to get into the right frame of mind. It helps you turn that nervousness into excitement. You’re about to go share an important message with your audience, so enjoy it!
One last thing you can try out is power posing. The research on it is mixed, but there’s no doubt that having a ritual helps you get focused and get ready.
For more tips on beating public speaking anxiety, read my other article on the topic.