Public Speaking Anxiety

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The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the teaching of affective strategies helps students’ reduce their public speaking anxiety. We used the questionnaire Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA) developed by McCroskey (1970; 1992) in order to determine the level of anxiety that a student experiences while holding a speech. At the beginning of the semester, the students were asked to fill out the questionnaire by approximating the level of distress that they experience while holding a public presentation. After the teaching of affective strategies at the end of the semester, the students were given the same questionnaire, with the above described instructions. The results of the study indicate that the students experienced significantly less anxiety after they had been taught how to manage their distress, by means of affective strategies. The implication for future research on assessment and amelioration of public speaking anxiety are considered.

Key words: speaking anxiety, affective strategies, public speaking


Anxiety is defined as a state of uneasiness and apprehension or fear caused by the anticipation of something threatening. Public speaking anxiety is very common among both college students and the general population. Persons with public speaking anxiety often avoid anxiety-producing social or performance situations, but when unavoidable, these situations are endured with feeling of intense anxiety and distress. Also, anticipatory anxiety frequently occurs as an individual imagines the situation in advance of the actual experience (e.g., worrying each day about a presentation to be given in a class several weeks in the future). Although individuals with these types of anxious responses often recognize that their fear is excessive and/or unreasonable, they are unable, without assistance, to change their responses in these situations. Individuals with public speaking anxiety most often experience a variety of symptoms in a public speaking situation, including palpitations, sweating, gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, muscle tension, and confusion. (North & Rives; 2001) Burnley et al.(1993) states that, “Approximately 85 percent of the general population report experiencing some level of anxiety about speaking in public.” Rossi and Seiler (1989) indicate that, “Public speaking or stage fright has been investigated and studied since the mid-1930’s. Many people who speak for a living, including actors, businesspeople, and politicians, experience public speaking anxiety. In fact, some of these experienced public speakers feel that a little nervousness before a performance or speaking engagement gives them the ability to perform at their best. However, for some people the anxiety becomes so intense that it interferes with the ability to perform at all. In the case of students, this may lead to avoiding certain courses or even majors where oral presentations are required, never speaking in class, or deciding against certain careers because they would require occasional speaking before a group. Students who are very anxious about public speaking in class may sometimes also avoid social events they would like to attend or may not talk to classmates they would like to get to know.  

Foreign language anxiety has been said by many researchers to influence language learning. Whereas facilitating anxiety produces positive effects on learners' performance, too much anxiety may cause a poor performance (Scovel, 1991). Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1991) have found that anxiety typically centers on listening and speaking. Speaking in class is most frequently difficult for anxious students even though they are pretty good at responding to a drill or giving prepared speeches. Anxious students may also have difficulties in discriminating sounds and structures or in catching their meaning. Price (1991) investigated by asking...
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