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Overcoming Speech Anxiety

Around 1,000 students visit the Psychological Counselling Centre of the Bremen Student Service Organization every year. A frequent topic: the fear of public speaking.

All eyes are focused on you and wait in anticipation. Don’t start stuttering now. Or even worse, lose the thread. And then you break out in a cold sweat. Holding presentations, speaking in front of an audience, or moderating events causes you nervousness or even complete panic? Doris Moormann from the Psychological Counselling Centre (PBS) of the Bremen Student Service Organization gives advice on how to get on top of speech anxiety.

“A certain amount of anxiety and nervousness before holding a presentation is perfectly normal, even for experienced speakers,” affirms Doris Moormann. It becomes problematic if we avoid such situations because of fear and if our nervousness makes us sick weeks before. In workshops and one-on-one counseling sessions, the PBS employee advises students who suffer from speech anxiety – that is, being panic stricken when speaking in front of groups. “Above all, speech anxiety arises because we put ourselves in a situation in which we are directly exposed to the criticism and evaluation of others and are afraid of embarrassing ourselves,” explains Moormann. In her workshops, the expert works out together with the students how they can gradually overcome their fear following a few practical advises.

Tip 1: Accept your fear

Do you have an upset tummy and headaches weeks ahead of the presentation and you don’t even want to think about it? The expert’s advice: Accept your fear and do not avoid the situation! Fear can also motivate us to prepare ourselves well for the upcoming presentation. However, if the fear becomes excessive and makes you sick, you should look for the reasons behind it – for example, with the help of the PBS. “Sometimes an earlier event can be responsible for the queasy feeling in your stomach, sometimes the reason is low self-esteem. If you know where the fear comes from, you can work on it.”

Tip 2: Change the way you feel about yourself

Often self-perception and external perception are in conflict with each other. Moormann repeatedly observes in the workshop that one’s own assessment is usually much harsher than the audience’s view. Because the others often don’t even notice that a point has been omitted or minor mistakes have been made. Therefore, delete sentences like “I’m not good enough anyway” and “I’ll fail in any case” from your repertoire. Instead, you should give yourself credit with sentences like “I trust my abilities” or “I am allowed to make mistakes.”

Tip 3: Relax

Anxiety is actually a type of stress and, due to the release of stress hormones, is also accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, faster heartbeat and changes in breathing. Stress can also be positive, the so-called eustress. Then it has a protective function and can have a driving effect. Negative stress – also called distress – on the other hand, blocks and paralyzes us, so that we cannot think clearly when we are speaking. “With special relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, these physical reactions can be well regulated,” advises Moormann.

Tip 4: Be well prepared

A classical but effective method remains to be well prepared. Hence, the expert’s recommendation: “If you are well prepared and practice your presentation extensively beforehand, you will get routine over time and feel more confident every time you give a presentation.”

Tip 5: You are not alone

And last but not least: You are not alone with your problem. Every semester, students who feel uncomfortable talking in front of large groups come to the counseling center and seek advice. With the workshop, the PBS offers a safe space where, in small groups, you can get feedback and advice from professionals and peers who feel the same way.

Psychological Counselling Centre

The next workshop on speech anxiety is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 13 and 14 in the summer semester 2022. You can register by calling the PBS office at +49 421 2201-11310.

The Psychological Counseling Centre is located in the University of Bremen Central Campus Building underneath the Mensa cafeteria. Appointments can be made by phone from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays. The centre can be reached by phone (2201-11310) or by email at pbs@stw-bremen.de. During the pandemic, video-based, phone, and online consultations sessions are being offered. The Psychological Counselling Centre services are offered free of charge to students at the university and higher education institutions in Bremen and Bremerhaven.

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