Unit 11: Overcoming Anxiety and Uncertainty
The unpredictable nature of live real-time presentations causes most of us to feel some apprehension before speaking in public. One factor in managing public speaking anxiety is becoming familiar with our responses (physical and psychological) to speaking in public and developing strategies for managing that anxiety. Another important part of managing public speaking anxiety is learning how to control the unexpected things that commonly occur. In this unit, we examine outside factors that affect presentations, such as the audience, question and answer sessions, the location and time, and last-minute changes. This way, we can develop contingency plans to respond appropriately.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 1 hour.
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
- describe strategies for managing public speaking anxiety; and
- describe common external factors that can impact presentations and plans for managing them.
11.1 Communicating with a Live Audience
Most presenters get anxious before giving a speech, even those who present quite regularly. If you are feeling nervous, you are not alone! Know that there are many techniques to help you manage your anxiety before and during your presentation. For example, it usually helps to arrive early for your presentation, be prepared, and know your subject matter well. It also helps to practice slow, paced breathing to help counter the physical symptoms that accompany speaking anxiety, and help calm your body. This unit will give you some additional strategies to try to discover what works best for you.
Read this chapter for an overview of the issues and potential complications of public speaking.
Watch this video, which explains what public speaking anxiety or "stage fright" is and what you can do to manage it.
Watch this video, which introduces the concept of communication apprehension (the umbrella term which includes public speaking anxiety) and offers some techniques for managing it.
Read this chapter, which offers advice and encouragement to help you manage your anxiety, reduce stress, and present in a public setting with confidence.
11.2: Adapting to Your Audience
Audiences are unpredictable. Your research may be able to anticipate how they will react to your message, but nothing is certain. If you are delivering your presentation to an audience in a "live" setting, you should always try to monitor their faces and reactions to make sure they understand what you have said so you can respond accordingly.
For example, you may need to stop and explain a concept differently if the audience looks confused. Or you may need to animate your presentation with a story, talk more quickly, or skip ahead to your next slide if your audience looks bored.
Suppose you are presenting to an audience located in a remote location, and you cannot see their faces. In that case, you may try to incorporate technology-based communication tools to obtain audience feedback, such as a chatroom, email, Twitter, or text messaging. You might try to recruit someone to monitor the messaging system you choose and work out a plan for how your assistant will alert you as the feedback comes in. This should make it easier to monitor the responses while you are presenting.
Read this advice on how you can read your audience and respond to their feedback during your presentation.
11.3: Preparing for Questions from the Audience
Presenters often invite audience members to ask questions during their presentation, such as at the end of a designated section, or after they have finished their presentation. This helps further engage your audience and make your conversation more meaningful. You might use technology platforms, such as email or a Twitter backchannel and hashtag, to gather questions and comments from within the room and elsewhere. How you gather audience questions depends on your style. For example, some presenters thrive on interruptions during their presentation, while others find them too disruptive.
Before your presentation, spend some time anticipating potential questions and prepare your responses in advance, so you are not surprised while you are in the spotlight. You might ask your colleagues or friends for their ideas to obtain different perspectives.
Read these tips on how to prepare for and handle the question-and-answer section of your presentation.
Watch this video to learn strategies for handling an audience member who uses the question-and-answer time to express hostility.
Read this text for more ideas on ways to respond to questions during your presentation.