A simple and reassuring message can help reduce people’s anxiety about speaking in public and make them feel positive about their nerves before the talk, researchers at The University of Western Australia have found.
Lead researcher Dr Ben Jackson, senior lecturer in UWA’s School of Human Sciences, said speaking in public was a task that many people found stressful.
“In fact, it has been reported that public speaking anxiety is the most common social fear among the general population,” Dr Jackson said.
Although some treatments to address public speaking anxiety had been successful in the past, they were often time and labour-intensive and difficult to deliver broadly, he said.
The UWA study made use of ‘inoculation theory’, which provides people with examples of forthcoming challenges and provides arguments to help overcome them.
The study involved a group of more than 200 university undergraduate students who were due to give a group-based presentation. Around half the students received a message designed to help presenters interpret their speech-related anxiety more positively.
The message reassured them about specific worries regarding public speaking, such as ‘everyone will see that I’m nervous’; ‘everyone is judging me and my appearance during my talk’; and ‘I’m not going to do well in my speech because I’m nervous’.
“For example, the message provided scientific evidence that other people, such as audience members, may not be as good at picking up on our nerves as we all think, and that having some anxiety need not necessarily be a bad thing,” Dr Jackson said.
Researchers found the students who received the message reported lower anxiety before and during the presentation compared to the students who did not receive the message. The students with the message also reported that it had helped them view their nerves in a less debilitating light.
“This was the first time so-called ‘inoculation’ messages had been tested as a means of helping public speaking anxiety and it’s possible that these treatments may offer a simple and effective method of alleviating a common social fear,” Dr Jackson said.
Read more about this intriguing study here. Story credit: UWA newsroom.
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