Q & A Library
Too Shook Up to Speak Out?
Is there any way to treat fear or anxiety associated with public speaking? It is something I must (and want) to overcome to develop both my professional and private goals.
Answer (Published 11/15/2004)
Many people, including professional actors and politicians, get nervous before speaking in public. This can be a lot worse when fear of public speaking is a manifestation of social anxiety disorder or social phobia, defined as a persistent and irrational fear of situations that may involve scrutiny or judgment by others. Fear of speaking in public is a very common type of social phobia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year approximately 5.3 million Americans suffer from social phobia. We don't know what causes these problems. They may be learned, inherited or, possibly, biochemical in nature. Researchers are exploring the idea that heightened sensitivity to disapproval may be physiologically or hormonally based.
As someone who does a lot of public speaking, I have learned that a bit of anxiety can be a helpful way of focusing my energy before a talk. I wouldn't want to eliminate it completely, but here are some recommendations for managing anxiety when it is too overwhelming to be useful:
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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