It’s your turn: everyone’s looking at you

Brianna Aultz, Contributing Writer

With racing hearts, queasy stomachs and sweaty palms, college students face a common stressor — the fear of public speaking.

Despite the challenges this fear presents, it is a required skill for success in a college environment.

Pitt-Johnstown humanities instructor Rachel Kimmel said practice is key to reducing stress.

“There is a direct correlation between preparation and reduced fear,” Kimmel said. “Visualize yourself doing well. See yourself completing the speech successfully and receiving applause at the end.”

After practicing, Kimmel said there are ways to reduce stress while giving a speech.

“Breathe. Relax. Calm yourself down before speaking. Anxiety is caused by all of the extra adrenaline your body is producing, and that is a perfectly normal reaction.”

Kimmel said mistakes will happen.

“No speech is perfect. You will screw up. I still screw up on a daily basis. Don’t expect a perfect speech.”

But, she said some mistakes can be anticipated.

“Have a backup plan in the event technology fails. Being organized and prepared will build your confidence and reduce fear,” she said.

Toastmasters International is an open group that helps members’ improve speaking and leadership skills.

The Johnstown branch members help struggling speakers become more confident through participation in communication exercises.

“We all encounter anxiety of speaking at some level. We must learn to slow down and focus on the topic and not let it overwhelm us,” said Travis Lodolinski, the Johnstown membership vice president.

Lodolinski said speech anxiety may be related to one’s self-image.

“There was a study done where women blindly described their physical features to a skilled painter. Then, they had a stranger describe what the individual looks like to the artist.

“Two portraits were developed. In each case, the second portrait looked closer to what the person actually resembled. With that being said, I feel the biggest problem (with speech anxiety) is self-image,” Lodolinski said.

The group emphasizes practice as the best coping tool for speech anxiety.

According to UPJ communication professor Kristen Majocha, a glossophobe — one who abnormally fears public speaking — must learn to function through speech anxiety.

“You’re never going to kill it. It’s not ever going to be cured. You just learn to adapt to it,” she said.