Trembling hands, perspiration, shaky knees. These are only a few symptoms that the average person experiences when put in the position of being the object of everyone’s attention.
Public speaking anxiety triggers numerous reactions. According to the Chair of the Communication Department, Liesel Reinhart, symptoms include trembling, sweating, vomiting, and even fainting. She recalled a moment when one of her students fainted during a speech.
“She went to the front of the room and I could see the color leave her cheeks,” Reinhart said. “One of the people in the front row was able to jump up and let her fall into him.”
Reinhart’s student was also suffering from hypoglycemia and sleep deprivation. Reinhart added that most of the debilitating issues with speech anxiety are linked to something else, like low selfesteem.
“If someone isn’t feeling good about who they are, it’s magnified when they step in front of an audience,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart said that the most common symptom that her students report experiencing is an increased heart rate. She compared speech to an extreme sport because of the adrenaline reaction shared between athletes and public speakers. “It’s the same hormone that athletes consider highly beneficial and speakers sometimes consider quite debilitating,” she said.
“One of the first things that we try and get students to do is to re-label it in their mind; that their body is preparing them to do something that’s challenging, and important, and exciting,” Reinhart said. “Maybe speech is an extreme sport if it creates an adrenaline reaction, right? It will be the new X Games.”
For Clarisse Panis, 20, pre-nursing major, public speaking does more than thump her heart out of her chest. “I fidget, my throat gets dry, my legs shake uncontrollably,” Panis said. “And sometimes when it’s almost my turn, my teeth chatter as if I’m really cold.”
Reinhart explained that it may not be the best idea to imagine your audience naked, contrary to popular belief. “I really think it’s bad to imagine your audience naked; that dismisses your audience. I always think you should see your audience in a burning house or dangling from a cliff,” Reinhart said. “Imagine your audience in a place where they need your help, your information, your assistance.”
According to Communication Quarterly of February 2006, public speaking is ranked high on the list of people’s greatest fears. That means that for the average person, public speaking is dreadful, more often than not. Yet, the Speech 1A course is required for the majority of students, specifically those who plan to transfer to a four year university.
So why is speech necessary? According to Reinhart, public speaking comes into play not only in job interviews and sales presentations, but also in the structure of our nation. She said that it is essential in “the right to defend yourself in a court of law, the right to free speech, the idea of social justice and protest movements that have shaped the fabric of our nation, and the ability to become an entrepreneur.”
Panis said, “As a nurse, I would have to be able to talk to doctors, colleagues, patients and their families,” she said. “If I can’t speak without anxiety, how can I really become a nurse?”
Kyle Lin, 19, urban and regional planning major, said that by the end of his argumentation and debate class, he hopes to become well-informed about politics and controversial topics.
“Assuming that I will be in the field of urban planning and that we’ll be doing a lot of group projects and team work, my public speaking will help me enforce my ideas and not be belittled by competition,” he said. “I’ll be able to stand out.”
Does all the fright go away with practice? Reinhart said that she still sometimes experiences the rapid heartbeat, but has learned to consider it as her friend. “I think the best speakers feel the same way,” Reinhart said. “If Obama and Romney don’t feel that way before they walk out for their presidential debates later this year, I would be concerned.”
- Marie Guerrero