Defeating My Speech Anxiety

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  • Your brain and body speed up to help you, but you fear it as “Speech Anxiety.”
  • Your two nervous systems: the “somatic system” controls your exterior muscles 
and your “autonomic system” controls your internal organs. 

  • Tensing and relaxing your exterior muscles calms your brain and slows your
 internal organs.

  • Imagining speech preparation and delivery while relaxing reduces your anxiety 
and builds a more-successful speech.
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Defeating Speech Anxiety!
I began teaching college classes in public speaking in 1968 at South Dakota State University as a graduate student and continued in 1971as a college teacher at Iowa State University for several years.

About 40% of my students were terrified while preparing and giving speeches. I soon developed an audiotaped program teaching them muscle relaxation exercises which helped them reduce their fear. Relaxed muscles quieted their brains. When their brains were more calm, they reduced their speech anxiety. Now I know more about how the brain and body helped reduce their fear.

Lions and bears terrified our ancestors. When they saw a lion in the jungle or a bear in the woods, their brains and bodies helped them “speed up” to either escape or fight the animal. I have learned since then, that giving a speech is a similar threat for new speakers. Their brains and bodies also speed up to help them cope with the threat of preparing and giving a speech.

When you feel threatened, the amygdala in your brain alerts your muscles to become tense in preparing for action and your internal organs to speed up – to help you. That scares you, if you do not understand the process. Your body has two nervous systems, one for the exterior muscles in your feet and legs, chest and stomach, arms and hands, shoulders and neck and our face and head. That is called, the “somatic” nervous system. Tensing and relaxing those exterior muscles calms your brain.

Inside your body there is another nervous system which controls your internal organs.When you feel threatened, it speeds up your heart, affects your breathing and opens your sweat glands. That is called, the “autonomic” nervous system. You can control this autonomic nervous system better, if you understand how it works. You divide the scary activity into smaller parts and visualize those smaller parts while you relax the exterior muscles in the somatic nervous system. By repeating the relaxation of your external muscles, you can retrain your internal organs to slow down. By relaxing your muscles in your exterior somatic nervous system, you can slow down your organs in your interior autonomic nervous system and defeat your speech anxiety.

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