Presenting to a room full of colleagues. Speaking in front of the classroom. Giving a toast at a wedding.
Many of us regularly engage in public speaking. While getting the jitters before taking the stage is a common experience, for millions of Americans the fear of public speaking (also called glossophobia) can be overwhelming, if not debilitating. Stage fright can cause trembling, profuse sweating, accelerated heart rates, breathing difficulties, memory blanks, stumbling of words, and so much more.
What’s worse, many people continue to suffer in silence. They’ve accepted and simply learned to live with their fear of public speaking. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness and have detrimental effects on their personal and professional lives. Fortunately, help is available - you just have to know where to look.
How can Speech Therapy Reduce Public Speaking Fears
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), more commonly referred to as speech therapists, are experts in communication. When we think of speech therapy, public speaking doesn’t always come top of mind. In fact, it’s a common misperception that speech therapists only treat speech and language issues that are clinical or educational in nature.
However, many speech therapists work with individuals to improve their public speaking skills and reduce their anxiety on stage. They use a number of techniques to help people build better communication skills, and stay calm, professional, and confident when speaking to groups of people. Based on your unique situation, here are some common strategies that speech therapists use to empower people in overcoming their fear of public speaking.
- Breathing and Swallowing: Nerves commonly lead to difficulty breathing and maintaining airflow. Many speech therapists help clients focus on diaphragmatic breathing to help. The diaphragm, which is located at the base of our lungs, is one of the main muscles we use to breath. Learning to breath deeper can help keep the body relaxed and work to prevent the fight-or-flight instinct.
- Articulation: During public speaking, many people struggle to clearly and coherently form their words. This can easily give off the impression of nervousness, interrupt the flow of your speech, and affect a listener's ability to understand what you’re trying to communicate. Speech therapists employ a number of strategies for improving articulation and speech quality while under stress.
- Non-verbal Cues: When you convey confidence, you feel more confident, which can lead to a virtuous cycle of self-assurance. There are many non-verbal communication habits that can signal confidence to our listeners, including our facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and more. Speech therapists can increase your awareness of non-verbal cues and your ability to implement them while speaking publicly. This can make a big difference in how your speech or presentation is perceived by others.
- Accent Modification: Speech clarity can be complicated for some individuals with heavier accents (ex: non-native English speakers). They may have trouble being understood, communicating effectively, and feel that listeners are more focused on the accent itself versus the message being conveyed. There are many different strategies that speech therapists use to help individuals modify their accent, like imitation, phonetic training, practicing vowels, visual aids, auditory description, etc. All this can translate into more confidence and less fear of public speaking. You can learn more about accent reduction and modification here.
- Vocal Health: Vocal disorders, and issues with vocal quality, pitch, and intonation, can make some individuals more self-conscious about their voice. They may experience a hoarse or raspy voice, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms that contribute to a fear of public speaking. Many speech therapists specialize in treating voice disorders, and can provide techniques to reduce strain on the vocal cords when articulating sounds, improving airflow, voice hygiene methods, and more. You can learn more about voice disorders and vocal health here.
Speech therapy is an appropriate and impactful way to feel more comfortable on stage and improve your communication skills. While this anxiety won’t disappear overnight, practice makes perfect. Working with a speech therapist gives you an opportunity to rehearse public speech in a supportive environment in front of a non-judgemental audience. They’ll provide real-time feedback along with tips and techniques so you can take back control of your fears and be a more confident communicator.