American author and humourist Mark Twain once said, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” That is true, very true. Almost all speakers experience nervousness, but successful speakers admit it and channelise the nervousness properly. They do not allow it to overcome them. They defeat anxiety with their confidence.
Public speaking nervousness, or speech anxiety, is the fear that overtakes people when they are called upon to speak in public.
I teach communication skills to students of engineering. They are required to select a topic of their choice, prepare a three-minute speech and deliver it before their classmates. One student selected ‘Unemployment among engineering graduates’ and gave this reason for selecting it: students who had their education in regional languages lack English communication skills and are therefore considered unemployable. One of his classmates rejoined that even students who are proficient in English experience communication apprehension and get rejected in the campus recruitment process. Yes, over 25 per cent of students experience some level of communication apprehension irrespective of their level of proficiency in the target language.
People are reluctant to speak in public for various reasons. Here are some that students gave:
I am not fluent in English. If I make mistakes my classmates will laugh at me.
I studied in a Tamil medium school. My English is bad. I can’t give a speech in English.
I have stage fright.
I’m shy. I’m not comfortable facing an audience.
Though I can speak fluently and without grammatical errors, I have stage fright.
My written English is good, but my spoken part is bad. I can’t speak fluently.
Yes, people experience speech anxiety when their proficiency in a language is low. But researches prove that even those who are proficient in a particular language can have stage fright. Those who lack confidence also face this problem.
How can we overcome speech anxiety? Very recently a successful public speaker who had his education in Tamil but later mastered English gave the following tips on how to overcome speech anxiety:
Think positively and focus on your strengths rather than on your weaknesses.
Boost your level of confidence by using auto suggestion. Tell yourself that you can deliver a speech in public.
No one is perfect. Making grammatical mistakes or stumbling while giving a speech is quite natural.
Don’t feel discouraged when someone laughs at you. Challenge yourself by saying that you will do better next time.
Be open-minded. Be ready to learn from others. When someone points out your mistakes, consider it an opportunity to grow.
Confidence leads to competence and competence leads to success. Confident learners of English can become competent and successful users of the language.