What is Communication Anxiety? Communication Anxiety is “the fear or anxiety associated with real or anticipated communication with others (iConquer Speech Anxiety, Karen Dwyer, pg. 20)”. In other words, it is an unpleasant sensation a speaker may experience before or during a presentation.
A lot of people often misunderstand communication anxiety as stage fright; stage fright and communication anxiety are different concepts. Stage refers to theater, and theater refers to performance. However, a public speech is not a performance, but an interactive communication event. In other words, stage fright applies to the situation when you’re an actor, not a speaker. Actors may not think of their speeches as authentic commitments to communicate while speakers do. So, if you cast yourself into a role of a performer, you are likely to think of your audience as critics. In such cases, you try to please them instead of communicating with then.
Surprisingly, communication anxiety is a very common problem that people around us face. Pro-golfer Annika Sorenstam was afraid of public speaking that there were times she would intentionally finish second to avoid giving a victory speech. The famous philosopher Aristotle also had communication anxiety that he once thought something was wrong with his tongue as he kept stuttering. 41% of people ranked public speaking as their #1 phobia, and public speaking is the number two fear of Americans. Only the fear of snake was greater, and the fear of death was only 6th!
According to National Communication Association, only 24% of Americans are comfortable giving a speech, and communication anxiety is normal. It is said that “At a funeral, most of us would rather be the one in the coffin that the one giving the eulogy.”
Communication anxiety is normal and can be felt by everyone, no matter how prolific they are or how many times they’ve stood behind a podium British novelist of the successful Harry Potter fantasy series J.K. Rowling, for example, admits feeling nervous before a crowd of Harvard graduates before she delivers her commencement speech to them:
The good news is that communication anxiety is manageable. Careful preparation can reduce anxiety by as much as 75%. Speakers may analyze audience, plan for presentation and visual aid, prepare easy-to-read notes, and rehearse three or more times to relieve anxiety. On our website, we would like to specifically focus and elaborate on three main points (breathing, cognitive structuring, visualization) to help you relieve communication anxiety and become a confident and successful speaker.