Speaker Nervousness, Limiting Nervousness & Effective Speech


At this stage of preparation you are ready to begin rehearsing, practicing the presentation of your speech aloud. In this section, we consider a timetable for preparation and practice, use of notes, use of visual aids and guidelines for effective rehearsals.

Timetable for Preparation and Practice

Inexperienced speakers often believe they are ready to present the speech once they have finished their outline. But a speech that is not practiced. is likely to be far less effective than it would have been had you given yourself sufficient practice time. In general, if you are not an experienced speaker, try to complete the outline at least two days before the speech is due so that you have sufficient practice time to revise, evaluate, and mull over all aspects of the speech. Provides a useful timetable for preparing a classroom speech.

Is there really a relationship between practice time and speech effectiveness? A study by Menzel and Carrel (1994) offers tentative confirmation for the general hypothesis that more preparation time leads to better speech performance. They concluded that “the significance of rehearsing out loud probably reflects the fact that verbalization clarifies thought. As a result, oral rehearsal helps lead to success in the actual delivery of a speech.

Using Notes in Your Speech

Speech notes consist of a word or phrase outline of the speech, plus hard to remember information such as quotations and statistics. Appropriate notes are composed of key words or phrases that help trigger your memory. Notes will be most useful to you when they consist of the fewest words possible written in lettering large enough to be seen instantly at a distance. Many speakers condense their written preparatory outline into a brief word or phrase outline.

For a speech in the three to five minute category, one or two three by five  note cards are all you will need. For a speech in the five to ten minute category, two to four three by five inch note cards should be enough one card for goal and introduction, one or two cards for the body, and one card for the conclusion. When your speech contains a particularly good quotation or a complicated set of statistics, you may want to write them in detail on separate three by five cards. Two typical sets of notes made from the body of the preparatory outline illustrated in are shown in.

During practice sessions, use the notes as you would in the speech, Either set the notes on the speaker’s stand or hold them in one hand and refer to them only when needed. Speakers often find that the act of making a note card is so effective in helping cement ideas in the mind that during practice, or later during the speech itself, they do not need to use the notes at all.

Using Visual Aids in Your Speech

Many speakers think that once they have prepared good visual aids they will have no trouble using them in the speech. However, many speeches with good visual aids have become shambles because of the lack of careful practice with them. Here are several guidelines for preparing to use visual aids effectively in your speech.

1. Carefully plan when to use visual aids. Indicate on your outline (or on your speech notes) exactly when you will use the visual aid and when you will remove it. Work on statements for introducing the visual aids and practice different ways of showing the visual aids until you are satisfied that everyone in the audience will be able to see them.

2. Consider audience needs carefully. If a visual aid you are planning to use does not contribute directly to the audience’s attention to, understanding of, or retention of information on your topic, then consider dropping it.

3. Show visual aids only when talking about them. Because visual aids will draw audience attention, show them only when you are talking about them, and remove visual aids from sight when they are no longer the focus of attention.

Often a single visual aid contains several bits of information. To keep audience attention where you want it, prepare the visual aid with cover ups. Then, as you move from one portion of the visual aid to another, you can remove covers to expose the portion of the visual aid that you are then discussing.

4. Talk about the visual aid while showing it. You know what you want your audience to see in the visual aid. Tell your audience what to look for, explain the various parts, and interpret figures, symbols and percentages.

5. Display visual aids so that everyone in the audience can see them. If you old the visual aid, position it away from your body and point it toward the various parts of the audience. If you place your visual aid on a chalk  board or easel or mount it in some way, stand to one side and point with the arm nearest the visual aid. If it is necessary to roll or fold the visual aid, bring some transparent tape to mount it to the chalkboard or wall so that it  does not roll or wrinkle.

6. Talk to your audience, not to the visual aid. You may need to look at the visual aid occasionally, but it is important to maintain eye contact with e your listeners as much as possible, in part so that you can gauge how they are reacting to your visual material. When speakers become too engrossed in their visual aids, they tend to lose contact with the audience entirely.

7. Pass objects around the audience with caution. People look at, read, handle and think about whatever they hold in their hands. While they are so occupied, they may not be listening to you. Keep control of people’s attention by telling them what they should be looking at and when they should be listening to you.

Guidelines for Effective Rehearsal

A good rehearsal period involves practicing the speech, analyzing it, and practicing it again.

First practice

1. Audiotape your practice session. If you do not own a recorder, try to borrow one. You may also want to have a friend sit in on your practice.

2. Read through the outline once or twice to refresh ideas in your mind. Then  put the outline out sight. Use the note cards you are planning to use in your speech.

3. Make the practice as similar to the speech situation as possible, including using any visual aids you have prepared. Stand up and face your imaginary audience. Pretend that the chairs, lamps, books, and other objects in your practice room are people.,

4. Write down the time that you begin.

5. Begin speaking. Keep going until you have presented your entire speech.

6. Write down the time you finish. Compute the length of the speech for this first practice.

Analysis Replay the tape: Look at your outline again. Did you leave out any  key ideas? Did you talk too long on anyone point and not long enough on another? Did you clarify each of your points? Did you try to adapt to your anticipated audience? (If you had a friend or relative listen to your practices, have them help with your analysis.) Were your note cards effective? Make any necessary changes before your second practice.

Second practice: Go through the six steps outlined for the first practice. By practicing a second time right after your analysis, you are more likely to make the kind of adjustments that begin to improve the speech.

After you have completed one full rehearsal consisting of two sessions of practices and analysis, put the speech away until that night or the next day. Although you may need to through the speech one or several more times, there is no value in cramming all the practices into one long rehearsal time. You may find that an individual practice right before you go to bed will be very helpful; while you are sleeping, your subconscious will continue to work on the speech. As a result, you are) likely to find significant improvement in your mastery of the speech when you practice again the next day.

How many times you practice depends on many variables, including your experience, your familiarity with the subject, and the length of your speech.

Ensuring spontaneity When practicing, try to learn the speech, not memorize it. Recall that Morin the speech involves saying the speech the same way each time until you can give it word for word without notes. Learning the speech involves understanding the ideas of the speech but having the freedom “to word the ideas differently during each practice. To illustrate the method of learning a speech, let’s use a short portion of the speech outline for the credit card criteria speech as the basis for the practice. That portion of the outline reads as follows.

A. Interest rates are the percentages that a company charges you to carry a balance on your card past the due date.

 1. Most credit cards carry an average of 18 percent.

Now let us consider three practices that focus on this small portion of the outline.

First practice: Interest rates are the percentages that a company charges you to carry a balance on your card past the due date. Most credit cards carry an average of 18 percent. Did you hear  that?-18 percent

Second practice: Interest rates are the percentages that company charges you when you don’t pay the balance in full and thus still owe the company money. Most credit cards carry an average of 18 percent think of that, 18 percent. So, if you leave a balance, every month before you know it, you’re going to be paying a lot more money than.you thought you would.

Third practice: Interest rates are the percentages that a company charges you when you don’t pay the balance in full you can rack up a lot of debt by not paying on time. Most credit cards carry an average of 18 percent. Did you hear that? A whopping 18 percent at a time when you can get about any kind of a loan for less than 10 percent.

Notice that point A and sub point 1 of the outline are in all three versions. As this illustrates, the essence of the outline will be a part of all your practices. Because you have made slight variations each time, when you finally give the speech there will be that sense of spontaneity. In your speech, you probably will use wording that is most meaningful to you, and yet you will be assured that you are likely to get the key point across.

Coping with Nervousness

By far the most asked question about speaking is, What can I do about nervousness? It is important to realize that nearly everyone reports nervousness about speaking, and we can all learn to cope with that nervousness.

Let’s begin by identifying what nervousness is all about. Whether we call it nervousness, grate fright, speech fright, shyness, reticence, speech apprehension, or some other term, the meaning of that feeling is essentially the same: a fear or anxiety about public speaking interaction.

Much of what we know about the fear of speaking comes from research conducted by James McCroskey, who has developed the most valid instrument for measuring what he calls communication apprehension. The Spotlight on Scholars provides insight into his research program.

Although we may feel some degree of nervousness in any situation, the majority of us notice it most in public speaking. Some of this nervousness is cognitive that is, we think about how nervous we are likely to be. Much of the nervousness is behavioral-that is, we physically display characteristics. For instance, we may experience stomach cramps, sweaty palms, dry mouth, and the use of such filler expressions as urns,likes and you knows. At times, the behavior is avoiding speaking in public or speaking for the shortest period of time possible when required to speak.

To help cope with this nervousness, keep in mind that fear is not an either or matter; it is a matter of degree. Most of us are somewhere between the two extremes of no nervousness at all and total fear. The point is, nervousness about speaking in public is normal.

Many of us believe we would be better off if we could be totally free from nervousness. But Gerald Phillips (1977), a speech scholar who studied public peaking nervousness for more than twenty years, says that is not true. Phillips noted that learning proceeds best when the organism is in a state of tension. In fact, it helps to be a little nervous to do your best. If you are lackadaisical about giving a speech, you probably will not do a good job.

Because at least some tension is constructive, our goal is to learn how to cope with our nervousness, Phillips cites results of studies that showed that nearly all students with nervousness still experienced tension, but almost all of them had learned to cope with the nervousness. Phillips goes on to say that apparently they had learned to manage the tension; they no longer saw it as an impairment, and they went ahead with what they had to do.

Now let’s look at some reassuring information about nervousness.

1. Despite nervousness, you can make it through your speech. Very few people are so bothered that they are unable to function. You may not enjoy the flutters you experience, hut you can still deliver an effective speech.

2. Listeners are not as likely to recognize your fear as you might think. The thought that audiences will notice an inexperienced speaker’s fear often increases that fear. Thoughts that an audience will be quick to laugh at a speaker who is hesitant or that it is just waiting to see how shaky a person appears can have devastating effects. But the fact is that members of an audience, even speech instructors, greatly underrate the amount of stage right they believe a person has (Clevenger, 1959, p. 136).

3. The better prepared you arc, the better you will cope with nervousness, Many people show extreme nervousness because either they are not well prepared or they think they are not well prepared. As Gerald Phillips has said, a positive approach to coping with nervousness is (1) learn how to try, (2) try, and (3) have some success” (Phillips, 1991, p. 6). As you learn to recognize when you are truly prepared, you will find yourself paying less attention to your nervousness. A study by Kathleen Ellis (1995) reinforces previous research that indicates that students self perceived public speaking competency is indeed an important predictor of their public speaking anxiety.

4. The more experience you get in speaking, the better you can cope with nervousness. Beginners experience some fear because they do not have experience speaking in public. As you give speeches-and see improvement in those speeches you gain confidence and worry less about any nervousness you might experience. As a recent study of the impact of basic courses on communication apprehension indicated, experience in a public speaking course was able to reduce students’ communication apprehension scores (Rose, Rancer, & Crannell, 1993, p. 58).

5. In addition, experienced speakers learn to channel their nervousness. The  nervousness you feel is, in controlled amounts, good for you. It takes a certain amount of nervousness to do your best. What you want is for your nervousness dissipate once you begin your speech. Just as soccer players are likely to report that the nervousness disappears once they engage in play, so too should speakers find nervousness disappearing once they get a reaction to the first few sentences of an introduction.

Specific Behaviors 

Now let’s consider specific behaviors that are likely to help you control your nervousness.

1. Pick topic you are comfortable with. Whereas an unsatisfactory topic lays the groundwork for a psychological mind-set that almost guarantees nervousness at the time of the speech, having a topic you know about and that is important to you lays the groundwork for a satisfying speech experience.

2. Take time to prepare fully. If you back yourself into a corner and must find material, organize it, write an outline, and practice the speech all in an hour or two, you almost guarantee failure and destroy your confidence. However, if you do a little work each day for a week before the assignment, you will experience considerably less pressure and increased confidence.

Keep in mind that giving yourself enough time to prepare fully includes sufficient time for rehearsal. In this regard, speech making is much like athletics. If you assure yourself that you have carefully prepared and principled. You will do the kind of job of which you can be proud.

3. Try to schedule your speech at a time that is psychologically best for you. When speeches are being scheduled, you may be able to choose the time. Are you better off getting it over with? If so, volunteer to go first. Will listening to others make you feel better? If so, try to schedule your speech near the end of the class period.

4. Control your food and beverages. Do not eat a big meal right before speaking-you may get a stomachache or feel overly logy. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar they can get you too revved up. Also, avoid drinking milk and milk products can produce a mucus that can affect your voice negatively. The best thing to drink before a speech is water. If you experience dry mouth, try sucking on a mint shortly before you speak.

5. Visualize successful speaking experiences. Visualization is a technique for nervousness that involves developing a mental strategy and picturing yourself implementing that strategy successfully. How many times have you said to yourself, Well, if I had been in that situation I would have? Such state merits are a form of visualization. Joe Ayres and Theodore S, Hope (1990), two scholars who have conducted extensive research on visualization, have found that, if people can visualize themselves going through an entire process, they have a much better chance of succeeding when they are in the situation.

Visualization has been used as a major means of improving sports skills. One example is a study  of players trying to improve their foul  hooting percentages. Players were divided into three groups. One group never practiced, one group practiced, and one group visualized practicing. As any of us would expect, those who practiced improved far more than those who did not. What seems amazing is that those who only visualized practicing improved almost as much as those who actually practiced (Scott, 1997, p. 99), Imagine what happens when you visualize and practice as well.

By visualizing speech making, people seem not only to be able to lower general apprehension but also report fewer negative thoughts when they actually speak (Ayres, Hopf, & Ayres, 1994, p. 256). Successful visualization begins during practice periods: See yourself as calm and smiling as you approach the podium. Remind yourself that you have good ideas, that you are well prepared, and that your audience wants to hear what you have to say. See the audience nodding approvingly as you speak. See them applauding as you ,finish.

6. Give yourself poise affirmations before you approach the stand. For instance, you might say to yourself, “I’m excited about having the opportunity to share this information with the class, I’ve done my best to get ready and now I’m ready to speak. Such statements help put you in a positive frame of mind. Although these statements  are not magic, they get us thinking on the right track.

If you find yourself doing negative self talk instead, confront your negative statements with positive ones. For instance, if you find yourself saying. I’m scared, intervene and say, No, I’m excited.

f you find yourself saying, Oh, I’m going to forget, say I’ve got note cards. If I do forget, I’ll pause, look at my notes, and go on.

If you find yourself saying, I’m a lousy speaker, what am I doing here? say I’m doing the best I can do for today and that’s okay.

7. Pause for a few seconds before you begin. When you reach the stand, stop a few seconds before you start to speak. Take a deep breath while you make eye contact with the audience; that may help get your breathing in order. Try  to move about a little during the first few sentences;  sometimes a few gestures or a step one way or another is enough to break some of the tension.

Persistent Nervousness

When is speaker nervousness a real problem? When it becomes debilitating when the fear is so great that a person is unable to go through giving a speech. Unfortunately many of those students respond by dropping the course. But that is not an answer to speech anxiety. In all areas of life, people have to give speeches they have to get up before peers, people from other organizations, customers, and others to explain their ideas. Although it is never too late to get help, a college speech course is the best time to start working on coping with speech nervousness. Even if your fears prove to be more perception than is important to rake the time to get help.

‘To start, see your professor outside of class and talk with him or her about what you are experiencing. Your professor should be able to offer suggestions  for people you can see or programs you can attend. You may be able to find a program in systematic desensitization, which repeatedly exposes people to the stimulus they fear, associating it each time with something pleasant. Another alternative is cognitive restructuring, in which people identify the illogical beliefs they hold and formulate more appropriate beliefs, in individualized instruction.

But before you get overly concerned, keep in mind that there are very few speech students who have been so hurt by fear that they cannot deliver a speech. Use your speech course as a resource to help you learn and develop the skills that will enable you to achieve even when you feel extremely anxious.

Criteria for Evaluating Speeches

In addition to learning to prepare and present speeches, you are learning to critically analyze the speeches you hear. From a pedagogical standpoint, critical analysis of speeches not only provides the speaker with both an analysis of where the speech went right and where it went wrong but also gives you, the critic, insight into the methods that you want to incorporate or, perhaps, avoid in presenting your own speeches.

Although speech criticism is context specific (analyzing the effectiveness of an informative demonstration speech differs from analyzing the effectiveness of a persuasive action speech), in this section we look at criteria for evaluating public speaking in general. Classroom speeches are usually evaluated on the basis of how well the speaker has met specific criteria of effective speaking.

In Chapter, you have been learning not only steps of speech preparation but also the criteria by which speeches are measured. The critical assumption is that if a speech has good content, is well organized, and is well presented it is more likely to achieve its goal. Thus, the critical apparatus for evaluating any speech comprises questions that relate to the basics of content, organization, and presentation.

A diagnostic speech checklist. Use this series of questions to analyze your first speech.

Sample Speech: Habitat for Humanity by Miranda Branton 

In addition to learning to prepare and present speeches, you are learning to critically analyze the speeches you hear. For this first speech assignment, we consider criteria related to the basics of content, organization, and presentation. The diagnostic checklist in a series of questions that will be used in the analysis of your first speech based on the Test Your Competence: Presenting Your First Speech.

This section contains a speech outline, a speech plan, and a sample speech with analysis. The outline, approximately 350 words, is an appropriate length when considering that the specific goal, thesis statement, and transitions that are written our in full are included in the count. The speech plan presents the strategy the speaker will employ. As you read the speech itself, you will notice how Miranda uses additional material to build the speech and to adapt to her audience

This speech was presented in Speech Class, University of Cincinnati, and is reprinted with permission, as edited, of Miranda Branton.

Speech Outline

Specific goal: I want my audience to comprehend the three functions of Habitat for Humanity.


I. Have you ever heard of Habitat for Humanity?

II. Habitat.for Humanity is an organization that provides a chance for low income families to own their homes.

Thesis statement: The three functions of Habitat for Humanity are to educate people in the community about the works of the group, to raise funds to build homes, and to build and rehabilitate houses.


I. One function of Habitat for Humanity is to educate people in the community about the works of the group.

A. Other housing programs work against poor people being able to afford adequate housing.

1. They pay mere than 30 percent of their monthly income for rent and utilities.

2. Yet they often have no hot water, electricity, or toilets.

B. Habitat was formed by Millard and Linda Fuller.

1. They developed the concept of partnership housing.

2. Today, Habitat seeks to eliminate homelessness and make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.

(To help provide housing, there mutt be funding)

II. The second function of Habitat for Humanity is to raise funds.

A. Donations as the main funding for Habitat.

B. Habitat sometimes partners with the government who sets the stage for construction.

1. The government may donate land, infrastructure for streets, or assist with utilities.

2. The government may also donate housing for Habitat to rehabilitate.

(Raising money allows Habitat to build houses).

III. A third function of Habitat is to build houses in partnership with local affiliates and home owners.

A. Families in need of a home apply to Habitat for their approval.

1. Families are chosen by level of need.

2. Families must be devoted to becoming partners in the program.

B. Habitat houses are then sold to partners.

1. Home prices are low.

2. Families make low monthly payments.


1. Habitat for Humanity helps people in poverty to own their own homes.

II. Its successes are known worldwide by achieving the goals of educating people about the works of the group, raising funds to build homes, and building and rehabilitating houses.


Habit for Humanity International.

Maudlin, Michael G. God’s contractor. Christianity Today, 43, June 14, 1999. p. 44 (Downloaded from InfoTrac College Edition).

Starling, Kelly. Habitat for Humanity: Interracial organization builds houses and dreams. Ebony, 53 (Nov 1997), p. 200 (Downloaded from InfoTrac College Edition).

University of Cincinnati’s Habitat for Humanity Campus habitat.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Plan for Adapting to Audience

1. Getting and maintaining interest. I plan to begin the speech with a question to capture audience attention. During the speech, I will ask questions to get and maintain interest.

2. Facilitating understanding. I do not believe the information I will present is , difficult to understand. I will work to keep technical jargon to a minimum. I believe that my examples, which are relevant to class experience, will help make the information easy to understand. I have organized my speech following a topical pattern. All three of my main points are complete sentences, and I will have transitions between points.

3. Building a positive attitude. I plan to build credibility by showing my command of the information and by using documented sources to support my points.

Speech and Analysis

Read the following speech aloud. Then analyze it on the basis of key criteria drawn from the speech critique checklist clear goal; introduction that gets attention and leads into the speech; clear, parallel, meaningful complete sentence main points; meaningful development; conclusion that ties the speech together and leaves it on a high note.

Summary (Practicing the Presentation of Your Speech)

Although speeches may be presented impromptu, by manuscript, or by manuscript  the material you have been reading is designed to help you present your speeches extemporaneously that is, carefully prepared and practiced but with the exact wording determined at the time of utterance.

The verbal components of effective presentation are clarity, vividness, and emphasis. The nonverbal elements of presentation include voice, articulation, and bodily action.

Effective speaking uses verbal and nonverbal components to achieve a conversational quality that includes enthusiasm, vocal expressiveness, spontaneity, fluency, and eye contact.

To rehearse an extemporaneous speech, complete the outline at least two days in advance. Between the rime the outline has been completed and the time the speech is to be given, practice the speech several rimes, weighing what you did and how you did it after each practice. You may wish to use brief notes, especially or longer speeches, as long as they do not interfere with your delivery.

All speakers feel nervous as they approach their first speech. Some nervousness is cognitive (in the mind) and some is behavioral (physically displayed). Rather than being an either or matter, nervousness is a matter of degree.

Because, at least some tension is constructive, our goal is not to get rid of nervousness but to learn how to cope with it. First, realize that nervousness is normal. Second, you can use several specific behaviors to help control excessive nervousness. And, if you’re well prepared, you will be able to achieve a more relaxed presentation.

If nervousness is truly detrimental to your performance, see your professor outside of class and talk with him or her about what you are experiencing. Your professor should be able to offer suggestions for people you can see or programs you can attend.

Speeches are evaluated on how well they meet the guidelines for effective content, organization, language and delivery.