Chapter 1 - Section 4

Reason #1: Public Speaking is a Full Body Experience

     The thought of speaking to a friend probably doesn’t make you very nervous or apprehensive, especially if you know the other person intimately. When you hear the words public speaking, however, what feelings come to mind? Fear? Trepidation? Nausea? Disgust? Revulsion?

Black Widow     You’re not alone. Consider a 2001 Gallup Poll survey asking what people most feared in life. What do you believe was one of the most-feared objects or experiences? Incredibly, more people fear public speaking than spiders, heights, and even death (Brewer, 2001). In fact, only snakes beat out public speaking on the most-feared list. Now, we dare not consider what would happen if your public speaking teacher made you speak in front of the class while your audience held needles, mice and spiders (the other top contenders on the most-feared list)! But seriously, what is it specifically about public speaking that makes us all so nervous?

     In other classes, you are expected to attend regularly, take diligent notes, write papers, and fulfill assignments. In public speaking classes, the same is true but for one significant difference. In public speaking classes, you’re most important assignments – speeches – aren’t between you and your professor alone. Rather, you are expected to write speeches for your peers, and deliver your speeches in front of your peers.

     Usually, we have no problem speaking to people. It’s when we have to speak in front of people, especially our peers, that we become so very nervous. This anxiety does all kinds of strange things to our bodies – our faces turn red, our hearts beat faster, our mouths becomes dry, hands begin to shake, and sometimes, when we’re really nervous, some of us feel like we’re going to pass out. That’s what we mean when we say public speaking is a full body experience. For the most part, public speaking is one of the few, if only, classes that isn’t about you alone – there has to be an audience involved for speaking to become public speaking. In public speaking classes, you will be on stage. Your ideas will be on a platform in front of others. People will judge you. People will judge what you say and how you say it. Private correspondence – writing a paper or fulfilling an assignment that only the professor reads – isn’t a luxury in public speaking.

     The good news is that you are not alone – everyone feels nervous. Yes, even people who are extroverted become nervous. And yes, even people who look like they’re not nervous become nervous (they just hide it better than others). And more good news: everyone in your class will be going through the same experience together, so hopefully you can empathize with your classmates as each of you makes the long and lonely walk to the podium where the room becomes silent, and all eyes and ears fix upon you.

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