Communication apprehension, also known as public speaking apprehension, stage fright, or communication anxiety, is the feeling of dread before one speaks in front of an audience, typically in a public speaking situation. This may arise from previous difficulties encountered in a similar speaking situation. For instance, you might have been rejected when trying to approach someone you like after stuttering or mumbling, or you may have forgotten what to say in a crucial class report, resulting in a failing grade. Another cause of communication apprehension is developing the fear of speaking after observing other people suffer from stage fright.
Communication apprehension is not entirely negative. The adrenaline rush brought about by one’s speaking anxiety before the presentation may contribute to an effective and engaging delivery. This makes the speaker prepare, conduct research ahead of time, and give the audience a dynamic delivery. However, excessive anxiety may affect the effectiveness of one’s speech. Just as communication apprehension can be learned, it can also be diminished. Wood (2009) outlined four ways to reduce communication apprehension, including systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring, positive visualization, and skills training.
This involves attempting to relax by controlling one’s breathing (e.g., taking deep breaths releases endorphins) and muscle tension, which eventually decreases the heart rate and reduces communication anxiety.
This is the process of changing the way one thinks about the situation. A public speaker should realize that everyone, even the most seasoned speakers, experiences communication apprehension. Cognitive restructuring also involves challenging negative perceptions about oneself. Worrying that the audience may find your presentation boring or uninteresting is unhelpful. Realize that you can’t please everyone in the audience, and not being able to do so does not necessarily mean you are a poor speaker.
This is done by imagining yourself successfully presenting your speech. It involves not only creating images in your head (e.g., imagining the positive feedback from the audience, etc.) but also the act of performing or presenting your speech as you have imagined.
This is another way of reducing speech anxiety. Constantly developing public speaking skills, including conducting research, organizing information, and presenting the speech, increases one’s confidence. Having communication skills does not mean you should not prepare your speech anymore. Being well-prepared (having confidence in your research and your performance, and even wearing clothes appropriate to the occasion) reduces speech anxiety.