Developing a Strong Speaking Voice With Social Anxiety


Developing a Strong Speaking Voice With Social Anxiety

Fear of public speaking is extremely common, often people fear it more than death itself! The experience varies from person to person – from feeling a little nervous to complete panic or freezing.

Public speaking tends to be feared more intensely and more often by those who have social anxiety disorder (SAD).

However, whether it is giving a formal presentation to an audience or asking our boss for a raise, being comfortable speaking in public is an important skill to learn.

Change is Possible

As daunting as it may seem, it is possible to overcome these fears and be able to deliver a speech more confidently. It will take some effort to change old habits and requires practice, but it is possible. Few people, if any, are born experts at public speaking.

It is a learned skill, many other tasks in our personal and professional lives.
Think of public speaking as something you can prepare for – not an innate gift you were born with or without.

Change your idea of public speaking and follow the helpful steps below, you as much as anyone else can speak publicly with ease.

Tools to Manage Fear of Public Speaking

1. Prepare – study and know your topic, it will be easier to get back on track if you do falter and allows you to field questions easier if you’ve done your homework.

2. Organize – write a small outline of key points, keep it short. Don’t read from it word for word, use it as a guide for what point is next. Have all of your materials and notes organized. If you are using a powerpoint or other technology make sure it works the day before if possible or plenty of time before – so you can be prepared to do it without if technology fails.

3. Practice – say the speech out loud in front of a mirror (use facial expressions and gestures that you would in the speech). Video tape yourself, before watching it back rate how well you believe you did on a scale 0 (terrible)-100 (great): eye contact, stuttering, long pauses, fidgeting, shaking, sweating, blushing, voice quivering, hand gestures, acted friendly, etc).

Then watch the video mindfully (as though you were watching someone else) be curious and try to ignore distressing thoughts. If you are distressed after watching, watch it a second time and if you are still distressed watch it a third time after a short break. Rate yourself again.

Role play your speech in front of a friend or significant other – this is an excellent way to get the jitters out.

4. Breathe – focus on your breathing and relax. This will help you find a natural rhythm to your speech. Keep your sentences short and use short pauses in between points.

5. Envision success – envision yourself standing calmly, speaking confidently and imagine how you want it to go. Let the desire of a successful performance motivate you – not the fear of the worst outcome. You may have been asked to speak because someone felt you have some valuable information to share – be confident in that.

6. Eliminate Fear – what if you do lose your place or trip over a word? Knowing this may happen and how you’ll recover is helpful – and less ly to catch you off guard. The majority of audience members have made mistakes during a speech before. They won’t notice small hiccups – they are listening for new material – not if its presented perfectly.

If you need, take a few seconds to get yourself back on track, reference your note card if you lose your place (even experienced speakers have notes – its ok to glance at it briefly). Your 5 second pause may seem eternity to you, but to the audience it may appear a planned and well needed moment for them to absorb the material covered thus far.

7. Exercise – a light exercise before can get your circulation going and direct oxygen to your brain. Take a brisk walk or do some light stretches.

8. Reflect – after the speech mentally applaud yourself for facing your fears and being proactive for preparing! There is always room for improvement, even the president makes mistakes in speeches – so just note some things to consider next time.

If these steps and practice don’t help with your fears, consider looking for professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment for fear of public speaking.

The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety.

Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St.

Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, Silicon Valley / San Jose, Dallas, Des Moines, San Diego, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Maryland / Northern Virginia, Long Beach, Staten Island, North Jersey, Brooklyn, and Santa Barbara. Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.

 Some information referenced from Mayo Clinic.

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Effective Communication — Improving your Social Skills

Developing a Strong Speaking Voice With Social Anxiety

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of avoiding social situations is that you never have the opportunity to:

  • Build up your confidence interacting with others
  • Develop strong communication skills that would increase the chance for successful relationships

For example, if you are afraid of going to parties or asking someone out on a date, your lack of experience and/or low confidence will make it even MORE difficult to know how to handle these situations ( what to wear, what to say, etc.). Often, people have the necessary skills but lack the confidence to use them. Either way, practice will increase your confidence and improve your communication skills.

Why Are Communication Skills Important?

Communication skills are the key to developing (and keeping) friendships and to building a strong social support network. They also help you take care of your own needs, while being respectful of the needs of others. People aren’t born with good communication skills; any other skill, they are learned through trial and error and repeated practice.

3 areas of communication that you may want to practice are:

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Conversation skills
  • Assertiveness

Note: Of course, there are many aspects to effective communication and you may want more specific help in certain areas (e.g. learning how to deal with conflict, presentation skills, giving feedback, etc.). For more specific help, please see the “Recommended Readings” list at the end of this module.

Non-Verbal Communication

A large part of what we communicate to each other is nonverbal. What you say to people with your eyes or your body language is just as powerful as what you say with words.

When you feel anxious, you might behave in ways that are designed to avoid communicating with others. For example, you may avoid eye contact or speak very softly. In other words, you are trying not to communicate, ly to avoid being judged negatively by others.

However, your body language and tone of voice does communicate powerful messages to others about your:

  • Emotional state (e.g. impatience, fear)
  • Attitude towards the listener (e.g. submissiveness, contempt)
  • Knowledge of the topic
  • Honesty (do you have a secret agenda?)

Thus, if you are avoiding eye contact, standing far away from others, and speaking quietly, you are ly communicating, “Stay away from me!” or “Don’t talk to me!” Chances are, this is not the message that you want to send.

Conversation Skills

One of the biggest challenges for someone with social anxiety is starting conversations and keeping them going. It is normal to struggle a bit when you are trying to make small talk, because it is not always easy to think of things to say. This is especially true when feeling anxious. On the other hand, some anxious people talk too much, which can have a negative impression on others.


Assertive communication is the honest expression of one’s own needs, wants and feelings, while respecting those of the other person. When you communicate assertively, your manner is non-threatening and non-judgmental, and you take responsibility for your own actions.

If you are socially anxious, you may have some difficulty expressing your thoughts and feelings openly. Assertiveness skills can be difficult to learn, especially since being assertive can mean holding yourself back from the way you would normally do things.

For example, you may be afraid of conflict, always go along with the crowd, and avoid offering your opinions. As a result, you may have developed a passive communication style.

Alternatively, you may aim to control and dominate others and have developed an aggressive communication style.

However, an assertive communication style brings many benefits. For example, it can help you to relate to others more genuinely, with less anxiety and resentment. It also gives you more control over your life, and reduces feelings of helplessness. Furthermore, it allows OTHER people the right to live their lives.

Myth #1: Assertiveness means getting your own way all the time

This is not true. Being assertive means expressing your point of view and communicating honestly with others. Often, you may not get “your own way” when you are assertively giving your opinion. But telling others how you feel and trying to work out a compromise shows respect for both yourself and others.

Myth #2: Being assertive means being selfish

This is false. Just because you express your opinions and your preferences does not mean that other people are forced to go along with you. If you express yourself assertively (not aggressively) then you make room for others. You can also be assertive on behalf of someone else (e.g. I would Susan to choose the restaurant this week).

Myth #3: Passivity is the way to be loved

This is false. Being passive means always agreeing with others, always allowing them to get their own way, giving into their wishes, and making no demands or requests of your own. Behaving this way is no guarantee that others will or admire you. In fact, they may perceive you as dull and feel frustrated that they can’t really get to know you.

Myth #4: It’s impolite to disagree

This is not true. Although there are some situations where we don’t give our honest opinion (e.g. most people say how beautiful a friend looks in her wedding dress, or we only say positive things on the first day of a new job). Much of the time, however, other people will be interested in what you think. Think how you would feel if everyone always agreed with you.

Myth #5: I have to do everything I am asked to do

False. A central part of being assertive is setting and keeping personal boundaries. This is difficult for many people. With our friends, we may worry that they will think we are selfish and uncaring if we don’t do everything they ask. At work, we may worry that others will think we are lazy or inefficient if we don’t do everything we are asked.

But other people cannot possibly know how busy you are, how much you dis a particular task, or what other plans you have already made unless you tell them. Most people would feel badly to learn that you had done something for them that you really didn’t have the time for (e.g. writing a report that requires you to work all weekend) or that you really dis doing (e.g.

helping a friend move).

Below are links corresponding to the three areas of communication just outlined. In each section you will find information described in two important steps that can help you get started in identifying your specific difficulties, and improving your communication skills to help you begin building successful and meaningful social relationships.

  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Conversation Skills
  • Assertiveness

For more information on overcoming social anxiety, effective communication, and increasing assertiveness, see:

  • Antony, M. & Swinson, R. (2000). Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven Techniques for Overcoming Your Fears. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
  • Antony, M. (2004). 10 Simple Solutions to Shyness. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
  • Burns, D. D. (1985). Intimate Connections. New York: Signet (Penguin Books)
  • McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (1995). Messages: The Communication Skills Book. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
  • Paterson, R. (2000). The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and In Relationships. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger


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