Reduce public speaking anxiety

Recent research shows a useful technique for ‘defusing’ nervousness about giving a speech or presentation

IP image

Many professionals experience anxiety when giving speeches or presentations. However, recent research published in The Psychological Record corroborates a rapid intervention for feeling less nervous.

Individuals often have specific worries such as ‘They’re going to laugh at me’ or ‘I feel so embarrassed’. In technical psychological language, people can become ‘fused’ with a thought – believing it and becoming unable to think less negatively about the situation.

The technique for reducing speaking anxiety is called defusion, which involves defusing or separating the words from the emotion. In the study, experimental participants were taught to think about their main worry and to identify the single word that troubled them most. That might have been ‘laugh’ or ‘embarrassed’, for instance. Participants then repeated the bothersome word aloud as quickly as they could for 30 seconds.

There were two other groups of participants in the study. One group learned a positive reframing technique (ie telling themselves a more positive thought), and a third group was not taught any techniques. Statistical analyses revealed that defusion resulted in the greatest reduction of speech-giving anxiety.

Multiple studies, including this one, suggest that defusion can help to reduce anxiety. So next time you have a worrisome thought, identify the most troubling word, then repeat it out loud as quickly as you can for 30 seconds.

Dr Rob Yeung – chartered psychologist and coach at consulting firm Talentspace

More information