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 rate, breathing difficulties, memory blanks, stumbling over 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, 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 professional communication skills and stay calm and confident when speaking to groups. Here are some common strategies that speech therapists use to empower people in overcoming their fear of public speaking.
1 Breathing and swallowing
Nerves commonly lead to difficulty breathing and maintaining airflow. A speech therapist can teach diaphragmatic breathing to help with this. The diaphragm, which is located at the base of our lungs, is one of the main muscles we use to breathe. Learning to breathe more deeply can help keep the body relaxed and prevent the fight-or-flight instinct.
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 you. Speech therapists use a number of strategies for improving articulation and speech quality while under stress.
3 Nonverbal cues
When you project confidence, you actually feel more confident, which can lead to a virtuous cycle of self-assurance. There are many nonverbal communication habits that can signal confidence to our listeners, including our facial expression, eye contact, and gestures. Speech therapists can increase your awareness of nonverbal cues and your ability to use them while speaking publicly. This can make a big difference in how your speech or presentation is perceived by others.
4 Accent modification
Speech clarity can be complicated for some people with heavier accents, such as non-native English speakers. They may have trouble being understood 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, such as imitation, phonetic training, practicing vowels, visual aids, and auditory description. All this can translate into more confidence and less fear of public speaking.
5 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.
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 nonjudgemental 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.