Breaking Through Communication Apprehension

When asked, a majority of Americans said that public speaking topped their list of fears. Communication appears to be the hallmark of our generation. It is the focal point of most aspects of human living. How well, or poorly, you are able to put across your thoughts and point of view will often determine professional, as well personal, success. If you feel anxious at the very thought of giving a speech in front of an audience, you will be glad to know that you are not the only one to feel this way. Millions of people across the globe hesitate and worry about public speaking.

To learn more about communication apprehension, checkout this infographic created by Brandeis University’s Online Master of Science in Project and Program Management program.

Breaking Through Communication Apprehension

What is Communication Apprehension?

Communication Apprehension was a term coined in the early 1970s by James C. McCroskey. It refers to the fear or anxiety that you may experience when you have to communicate with a person or with a group. This worry may also be felt when you perceive or think about such communication. It is a real fear and causes physiological, as well as emotional, effects.

When a person experiences high communication apprehension, they are likely to feel breathless and flustered. Their hands get sweaty and perspiration increases. They may feel like their heartbeat is racing. High CA leaves one vulnerable to worrying about all kinds of interaction.

Everyone experiences some amount of communication apprehension or CA. In fact, it is a natural response to a situation perceived as stressful and challenging. How you deal with the situation and approach it will determine the CA experienced. A person with high CA may find it difficult to express themselves. On the other hand, if you have low CA you may talk too much and ramble on. Interestingly, communication apprehension is not limited to public speaking. In many cases, it may also be felt when a person converses one-on-one, or with a small group.

Cause and Effect

Fear of failure, inadequate preparation and skill deficiency are some of the causes for this condition. Unfamiliar situations and fear of evaluation can also lead to it. Some of the effects of communication apprehension include procrastination, dissatisfaction and frustration in one’s inability to communicate effectively. When speaking before a group of people one may forget or lose their chain of thoughts and stutter.

State vs. Trait

Psychologists define State CA as the kind that is experienced in a certain situation such as when speaking before a large group or with a certain person, like an employer. On the other hand, Trait CA refers to the fact that a person experiences communication apprehension in all situations. So, a person with low Trait CA may experience State CA, while trait CA makes them susceptible to anxiety in any situation that requires communication.

A Step-by-Step Plan

Start Now: Most fears in life are learned, and with some effort and help, they can also be unlearned. The first step towards handling communication apprehension is to stop procrastinating, and to deal with your fear head on. Understand that everyone experiences such anxiety, including the audience that you will be speaking to. Communication skills are developed over time and it is okay to make mistakes, and learn from them.

Prepare: It is vital that the key points of your speech are well researched and understood. The clearer and more organized your thoughts; the easier it will be to express them. Pen down the key points covered in your speech in a structured manner, so that transitions from one point to the next are smooth. There are no specific keywords needed, just focus on the content of your speech and not on just getting through it. Pace yourself well, and understand that it is okay to pause occasionally during your talk.

Practice: The best way to conquer your fear is to practice regularly. Before you begin, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a while, to calm yourself. Stretch your body to release tension. Practice in front of a mirror, and then when you are more confident, practice with a friend. After every practice session, visualize yourself confidently speaking to an audience. Practicing a speech not only helps you become self-assured but also familiarizes you with the content and language. This makes it easier for you to recover in case you get stuck during your talk.

Start Small: Begin with small steps, first speak to a smaller group and go on from there. Systematic desensitization will help you gain confidence in your communication skills and refine them.

The manner in which you communicate does not, and should not, determine self-worth. It is possible to overcome communication apprehension, and address an audience confidently and successfully.

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