Smithers, I need you to make a presentation...

Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr.



"Understanding Performance Apprehension"
an abbreviated excerpt from the book
Understanding Communication
by Bert Bradley

The Term Stage Fright is a Misnomer
Performance Apprehension is Not Peculiar to Certain People
Performance Apprehension Causes Helpful Physiological Reactions
Performance Apprehension Can Be Harmful
Performance Apprehension Can Be Controlled
    Develop Proper Attitude toward Performance Apprehension
    Get as Much Experience as Possible
    Prepare Well for the Speech
    Use Bodily Action
    Concentrate on Communication
    Remember that Physiological Reactions are Unseen
    Remember that Listeners Want You to Succeed

The Term Stage Fright is a Misnomer

    An understanding of stage fright begins with the knowledge that the term stage fright is unclear. As a matter of fact, speech teachers have been unable to devise a clear, consistent, meaningful definition of stage fright. Much experimental research has been conducted on this problem, but even here researchers have failed to define the term....
    Stage fright is a misnomer because the inclusion of the term fright gives the impression that fear is present. Some have even defined the reaction as fear. This book contends, however, that a person with so-called stage fright is not experiencing fear, but anxiety or apprehension about the performance. The speaker is not afraid of the audience or the situation. The speaker's personal feelings about the quality of the speaking effort and its outcome causes anxiety or tension. Psychologists Shaffer and shoben clearly differentiate between fear and anxiety:
"The feeling-tone of anxiety is much like that of fear, but the two emotions can be distinguished in a number of ways. Typically, fear is evoked by a present and external stimulus, such as a ferocious dog or a narrowly escaped accident. Anxiety usually relates to the anticipation of a future situation, an apprehension of a probably pain, loss, or threat. Also anxiety is mot often stimulated by qualities of a person himself rather than by external events. A boy fears a larger bully but has anxiety about his own strength, competence, or acceptance in the group. Anxiety is therefore a relatively late-emerging emotional pattern, since it depends upon some ability to foresee the future and upon some degree of sicially acquired evaluation of one's self."
    In this book, then, stage fright will be defined as a normal form of anxiety, or emotional tension, occurring in anyone confronted with a situation in which the performance is important and the outcome uncertain. It should be noted that this definition does not restrict the reaction to speakers or to certain speakers. What we are really talking about is performance apprehension.

Performance Apprehension is Not Peculiar to Certain People

    Unfortunately, the terms stage fright or communication apprehension give the impression that this reaction is an abnormal one and is perculiar to certain people on the stage--public speakers and actors--or persons involved in some act of communication. The truth is that the reaction is not abnormal and is not perculiar to any group; it is foundin many people--athletes before an athletic event, actors and musicians before a performance, teachers before a class, job applicants before an interview....
    Performance Apprehension and Students This reaction is not an unusual one for speakers, inexperienced or experienced. Some beginning speakers have the idea they alone have this response. Rest assured, you are in large and good company. In a study of two groups of college students, 210 in one group and 277 in the second group, Knower found that "fifty-six percent of the first group and 61 percent of the second group listed some form of nervousness as one of their speech problems." In another study of 512 high school speech students, Knower discovered that "seventy-four percent of them judged themselves to be at least somewhat nervous when speaking." Although different students experience performance apprehension in varying degrees, Low and Sheets, on the basis of their research, concluded, "No significant differences were found between students with the most stage fright and students with the least stage fright in: 1. General intelligence. 2. Quantitative reasoning ability. 3. The more important phases of personality. 4. Their interest in the fields of science, meahcnics, nature, and business."
    You do not have to worry about being abnormal, therefore, because you experience more emotional tension than some of your classmates.
    Experienced speakers also have emotional tension prior to a speaking engagement. After studying thirty experienced public speakers, including lawyers, ministers, businessmen, educators, and state supreme court judges, Wrenchley concluded that "seventy-six percent of the interviewees stated that they did have stage fright or, as many termed it, a nervousness or tension before speaking." ...
    Beginning speakers can take comfort, then, from the knowledge that the phenomenon we call stage fright is not peculiar to certain people, nor even to certain groups of people. The reactions occur in athletes, actors, musicians, teachers, speakers--in short, they occur in anyone who is confronted with a situation in which the performance is important and the outcome uncertain.

Performance Apprehension Causes Helpful Physiological Reactions

    This emotional tension, or anxiety, results in a physiological reaction that prepares the body for a better physical and mental effort. Located within the human body are organs designed to function only when triggered by what is perceived to be an emergency situation. Just as it would be wasteful and inefficient for an automobile engine to use all its 350 horsepower when the car was going twenty-five miles an hour, so it would be wasteful and inefficient for the human body to operate at peak efficiency under normal circumstances.
    When an emergency is perceived, however, these organs are ready to go into operation. The adrenal gland pumps adrenalin into the system. The arrival of adrenalin at the muscles increases their vitality and reaction time. Larger quantities of sugar are released from the pancreas to convert the sugar into energy, giving the body greater strength to cope with physical problems. Numerous red corpuscles are discharged into the bloodstream from the spleen. Breathing is quickened, thus bringing in more oxygen and expelling the carbon dioxide more rapidly. The pulse rate speeds up so that more fresh blood arrives at the muscles, the heart, the brain, and the central nervous system with larger quantities of oxygen. Blood is diverted away from its normal provess of picking up digested food from the stomach and intestines and is now directed to the musicles, heart, brain, and central nervous system to provide these organs with more oxygen and energy. The brain is thus capable of tinking with greater clarity, perceptiveness, and quickness; the muscles are capable of exerting a more intense physical effort; the central nervous system is capable of reacting more quickly. Because of these physiological changes, the human body can perform at a much higher level than under normal circumstances.....
    It is important to note, however, that these reactions do not take place if there is no uncertainty within the individual over the outcome of the performance or if the outcome is considered unimportant. Many upsets in athletics contests can be traced to this cause. Members of an athletic team expected to win easily--but who lose--report almost without exception that they had no occurrence of the familiar "butterflies in the stomach" prior to the contest. William Jennings Bryan, outstanding speaker of the first part of this century who gave literally thousands of speeches, reports in his autobiography that he failed to experience "butterfiles in his stomach" on only one occasion. And, he said, that was the worst speech he ever gave.

Performance Apprehension Can Be Harmful

    To say that the phenomenon of performance apprehension is helpful is not to say that it cannot be harmful, for it can. An individual can have so much anxiety, or emotional tension, that it will result in extreme physiological reactions....
    Most of us have witness the inexperience speaker who goes blank or whose voice becomes tremulous or whose hands shake so badly he cannot hold his notes or gesture properly. It seems safe to conclude, then, that performance apprehension can be harmful. It can be harmful because the speaker gets too much help. This can occur for two reasons.
    First, it can occur because the individual's experiene is too limited for the significance of the duties he is asked to perform.... If you were asked to give your first speech over nationwide television, this would be too great a responsiblity for your limited experience. A background of success in less important situations must be built up before coping with important situations....
    Avoid speaking situations of great significance until a background of successful minor experiences has been established....
    A second factor that contributes to making performance apprehension harmful has to do with not understanding the origin or the rapid breathing, the moist palms, the butterflies in the stomach, the other physiological reactions, and the consequent lack of knowledge as to how to cope with these physiological changes. That brings us, then, to the means by which you may learn to control performance apprehension.

Performance Apprehension Can Be Controlled

    Many beginning speakers, and even some experienced ones, ask "How can I get rid of speech apprehension?" The answer is you do not want to get rid of it--what you want to do is learn to control it. The emotional tension, or anxiety, is a beneficial reaction that the public speaker must not be without....
    After a penetrating study, Robinson concluded: The complete absence of feelings of apprehension is neither normal nor a desirable state." With this fact in mind, let us examine seven ways in which the speaker can learn to control performance apprehension.

    Develop Proper Attitude toward Performance Apprehension The first method for controlling performance apprehension is to develop the proper attitude toward it. Realize that the physiological changes that take place are normal and beneficial and prepare you for a better effort, both physically and mentally. The knowledge that the anxiety, or emotional tension, before a speech is normal and beneficial arms you with a healthy, wholesome attitude which serves to short-circuit the process that causes too much performance apprehension.
    When you first perceive the situation as an important one, a message goes out from the central nervous system activating the emergency organs. Unfortunately, many speakers, unaware of the origin and possessing the wrong attitude, misinterpret the accompanying physiological changes as indications that the situation is getting worse. Consequently, another message goes out from the central nervous sytem to the emergency organs. The resulting increase in the physiological changes causes the speaker to conclude that the situation is worsening and so the cycle goes until the speaker is unable to control these responses.
    When you have the right attitude, however, the whole process is altered. As soon as the first physiological changes occur, if you have an understanding of these reactions and the proper attitude toward performance apprehension, you interpret these changes as an indication that you are going to be ready for this speech, that these changes will increase your power of concentration, improve your thinking ability, and render more acute your perceptive processes. With this reaction, no further messages go out from the central nervous system to the emergency organs and the physiological changes remain at a beneficial and controllable level.

    Get as Much Experience as Possible The second means that enables you to control performance apprehension is experience. This experience does not have to be limited to public speaking occasions but can come from speaking in a broad variety of situations. Low and Sheets, in comparing students with the most performance apprehension to those with the least, found that the former--

  1. Have not engaged in as much platform speaking activity.
  2. Have not participated as much in extracurricular and social activities.
  3. Have difficulty in making and adequate social adjustment.
  4. Have less linguistic ability.
  5. Have less interest in activities which involve self-expression in verbal activities and in work involving judgment and the supervision of others.
    The more experience you have, the more confidence you devlop in your ability to perform successfully. Every successful speaking effort reinforces your belief that you can cope with future assignments. This is expecially true in speaking since no speaking situation is the same as another. The wider and more avried the experience, therefore, the more confident you will be that you have been confronted with a situation in some way comparable to the present assignemt. After sutdying students in a college speech course, Henrikson wrote that his study agreed "with the previous investigations in indicating that speech training promotes confidence in the speaking situation." According to those students he studied, the most important factor in alleviating performance apprehension was practice (68.8 percent). Knowing you have spoken successfully in past situations reduces the uncertainties about the outcome of the anticipated performance, resulting in less complicated anxiety and elss performance apprehension. Researchers have also discoverd through measurements of physiological reactions that experienced sport parachutists have greater emotional control than novices, and experienced divers in underwater exploration develop an increasing ability to cope with the stresses of their environment.
    Jensen reports that "'experience' is the important variable to be used in the prediction of self-report speech anxiety." An extremely important finding of his study is that a person's perception determines what is experience. "Thus, if a subject perceived working with Boy Scouts or singing in a choir as a kind of experience related to giving apseech in public, his perception of the relationship of that kind of experience to public speaking appears to have affected his score for self-reported speech anxiety."

    Prepare Well for the Speech Third, good preparation aids in controlling performance apprehension. If you have to worry about what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and what the outcome will be, you will surely have more emotional tension than if you have to worry only about the outcome. Select your topic with care, do any necessary preliminary thinking, coplete your research, organize the materials logically and psychologicall to achieve your purpose and to suit this particular audience, and practice your speech. Knisely reported that, among the prominent speakers in his study who experienced some form of apprehension, 70 percent said their primary method of coping with it was through throough preparation.
    There is good evidence that you should practice your speech until you overlearn it. University of Illinois psychologists discovered that actors who overlearned their parts found apprehension helpful, whereas actors who underlearned their parts found apprehension harmful. For the speaker, of course, overlearning refers to ideas, not to a particular sequence of words.
    Thorough preparation will give you confidence in knowing that you have something to say and konw how you want to say it. Anxiety about the outcome, then, will not be complicated cy conern about various facets of preparation.

    Use Bodily Action Once in the speaking situation, bodily action can become a fourth means of controlling performance apprehension. Many speakers interpret shaking of the hands and trembling of the knees as evidence of fear. It is not fear, however, but merely the homeostatic process of the body dissipating excess energy that causes the trembling of certain limbs. Recall for a moment some time when you have narrowly averted a serious accident. You might have been driving down a main thoroughfare when another car suddenly darted in from a side street. Successfully maneuvering your car to avert an accident, you found your hands trembling so much you could hardly clutch the steering wheel. This is the same (homeostatic) process in both instances. The body attempts to maintain a constant balance. Just as the body perspires to cause a cooling process when there is danger of body temperature increasing above 98.6 degrees, so the body dissipates excess energy that is not being used. When the emergency organs prepare the body for a superhuman physical effort and no physical exertions are necessary, the body is left with this excess energy which it must dissipate. This dissipationg takes the form of trembling muscles.
    Many speakers, interpreting these reactions as fear, grab the sides of the speaker's stand and hold on like a freshman clutching his first letter from hom, or shove their hands into their pockets hoping clenched fists will help stop the trembling. But these are the very things the speaker should not do. Inhibiting the dissipation of excess energy in one set of muscles sipmly means that another set will have to do the job. This often means greater trembling of the knees or a more tremulous vocal tone.
    The best solution is to use this excess energy in a constructive way--use it for gesturs and bodily movmement. This not only rids the body of excess energy, but also aids in effective communication. With respect to this point, Lomas has made a trenchant observation: "If bodily action is to have therapeutic value for stage fright, that value must come through training received before speaking, not from anything the student may do while speaking." In other words, you must have practiced the use of gestures and body action so that their use will occur automatically in a meaningful way during the speech. If you have to stop and think about using gestures and body actdion because of your emotional tension, the complexity of the situation is increased, which may in turn increase your excitement.

    Concentrate on Communication Fifth, a speaker gains control over performance apprehension by concentrating on communicating with the listeners. Talk to almost any athlete and he will tell you the "butterfiles" disappear as soon as the game begins--when he makes the first tackle or block, when the ball is tipped off, when the pitcher throws the first pitch to him, when the starter's gun sounds. He does not have time to think about himself because he is too busy playing the game. Evonne Goolagong, the sensational Australian tennis player who won the Women's Wimbledon Cup in 1971 at the age of nineteen, reported to newsmen after the finals that she was nervous before the match began. "But," she said, "as soon as I got out there I forgot my nerves and started playing."
    This is what you must do--play the game. As soon as you begin speaking you must begin observing the reactions of your listeners and making efforts to adapt to their reactions. Look for friendly faces. They can reassure you, but avoid the appealing temptation to talk predominantly to the genial ones. You want to communicate with all the listeners. You should be asking yourself, "Are these people hearing and understanding what I am saying? Are they responding in the ways I desire?" If you are concentrating on communication in this fashion, you have no time for yourself. Wrenchley's study of apprehension in thirty experienced speakers revealed that "seventy percent of those interviewed" forgot performance apprehension reactions as they get involved in speaking. Let the speakers themselves describe the process:
Speaker #27: Yes, I generally lose the feeling after I get started in my speech. I have learned to concentrate on my subject rather than on myself. Experience has also helped.
Speaker #28: Yes, I overcome it as I proceed. I'm completely relaxed when I get into my subject. Concentration and thinking about the content relaxes me.

    Remember that Physiological Reactions are Unseen Sixth, performance apprehension can be controlled by remembering that the physiological upheavals taking place are internal and cannot be perceived by most listeners--at times not even by expert listeners. Dickens, Bigson, and Prall studied the overt manifestations of speaking apprehension and concluded that "analysis of individual ratings revealed such gross inaccuracies as to suggest that a speech teacher can place little faith in her unsupported jusgment as to the emotions felt by a given student in a given speech." Further substantiating this point of view is Clevengers' survey of research on speaking apprehension. He concluded that "the consistency with which judges' ratings ran below introspective accounts of speaking apprehension suggests that a group of observes tends to notice less disruption in the speaker than the speaker reports having experienced."
    A number of years ago a southern university had an intercollegiate depater whose pose, coolness, fluency, andskill were always remarkable and impressive. Several years later his colleague, in reminiscing, revealed that this superb departer had become literally sick to his stomach before almost every round of debate. Yet neither the judges nor the opponents were ever aware of this debater's performance apprehension. Most of the time he made his opponents sick because of their inability to cope with his debating skills.
    Among the best debaters with whom this writer has worked was one who found it difficult to eat at any time during a debate tournament, sometimes for as amny as three days. At mealtime while his colleagues ate, he busied himself with several glasses of water. On the way home, however, he made up for all the meals he had missed. Yet no judge ever commented on his emotional tension; on the contrary, many commented on his confident and poised skill in debating.
    So, as a beginning speaker, remember, the only way a listener can become aware of your emotional tension, or anxiety, is if you tell him in some way, either verbally or nonverbally. Since most listeners place greater reliance in a speaker who appears confident, poised, unruffled, and at ease..., you should refrain from commenting on your emotional tension unless some overt behavior makes it obvious you are suffering from this problem. Such references distract the listeners from the main subject to be developed in the speech and diminish the listerners' estimate of the speaker's skill, experience, and confidence.
    Of course, if you are holding notes and the trembling of your hands obviously reveals emotional tension, you can often relieve the tension by referring to it humorously. But remember: do not mention it unless it is obvious, and then do not apologize for it.

    Remember that Listeners Want You to Succeed A seventh means of controlling performance apprehension is to realize that the listeners are friendly people who generally want you to succeed. Knowing the audience is not hostile to you and your ideas should give you greater confidence in presenting your speech. An outward demonstration of confidence will not only make you feel better, it will increase your credibility with the listeners.



You may order any of the Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright books
which are listed below from
directly from this site.
Click on the title or book cover for details.

Communication: Apprehension, Avoidance, and Effectiveness
by Virginia P. Richmond & James C. McCroskey
Read more about this title...
"Public speakers are often overwhelmed with attacks of shyness, anxiety and other reasons to avoid speaking. This book provides a clear overview of the process of human communication - what to do and what not to do when the desire to flee arises. Key Topics: Starting with the premise that speech anxiety is one of the most common obstructions to clear and effective communication, this book provides readers with a better understanding for the reasons that people experience such fears and concrete suggestions for how to overcome them. Market: Public and professional communicators who have experienced an undesirable speaking performance." synopsis
This book is by far and away the best book on the subject to date. Grounded in research (the best research in the field has been done by McCroskey himself), this is a helpful, readable volume that is full of practical advice and new ways of thinking about an old problem. --Grover Proctor
Avoiding Communication: Shyness, Reticence, and Communication Apprehension
by John A. Daly, James C. McCroskey & Joe Ayers, editors
Read more about this title...
This is a seminal collection of scholarly articles, research reports, and theoretical papers related to the topics of Performance Anxiety, Communication Apprehension, and Stage Fright. This is for the person who wants to delve into the depths of current research. --Grover Proctor
A Component Theory of Cummunication Apprehension
by Joe Ayres
Read more about this title...
Perhaps second only to McCroskey, Ayres is one of the leading figures in research and theory related to Communication Apprehension. This new book takes a theoretical approach that could re-write how we understand the problem, but it may not be entirely suited to those seeking remedy over theory. --Grover Proctor
Getting Over Yourself
by Barbara Rocha
Read more about this title...
"Light-hearted approach to becoming a happy successful speaker. Makes the learning easy with entertaining lllustrations, cartoons and style. An easy to read, humorous and entertaining guide to improve your speaking. Barbara Rocha is the Director of Barbara Rocha and Associates, which over the past 20 years has conducted over 600 seminars to turn over 8000 business executives and other professionals into happy, successful speakers." synopsis
No More Butterflies: Overcoming Stagefright, Shyness, Interview Anxiety and Fear of Public Speaking
by Peter Desberg
Read more about this title...
"Peter Desberg, a professor of psychology who regularly conducts workshops for businesspeople on controlling stagefright, offers a guide to help anyone who has problems speaking in public. His "presentation inventory" helps readers pinpoint their problems and anxieties in such situations as giving a talk or speaking up in a classroom or meeting." synopsis
Performance Anxiety: Overcoming Your Fear in the Workplace, Social Situations, Interpersonal Communications, the Performing Arts
by Mitchell W. Robin & Rochelle Balter
Read more about this title...
"Overcome your fear in the workplace, social situations, interpersonal communications, and the performing arts. Whether it comes in the form of making a business presentation, performing onstage, or delivering a speech, performance anxiety can affect anyone. This breakthrough book, written by staff members of the prestigious institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy, offers sixteen prescriptive exercises that will help the millions who suffer from the syndrome. Performance Anxiety shows how to understand the sources of anxiety, develop increased confidence, and overcome performance problems in virtually any situation. TABLE OF CONTENTS: Our Greatest Fear "Why Are My Butterflies Like Elephants?" Anxiety, Shame, Embarrassment, and Guilt Tools of the Trade De-stress Yourself, Don't Dis-stress Yourself Rehearse a Skill, Not a Symptom Don't Confuse Anxiety with Effort Don't Self-Medicate Concretize, Don't Awfulize De-sacredize, Don't Idolize Use "Why Not?" Not "Why Me?" Act "As If" Be a Participator, Not a Self-Spectator Stay in the Moment Rate Your Behavior, Not Your Soul Accept Yourself, Warts and All In You Must Compare, Compare Downward Give Yourself Permission to Be" synopsis


Contents (except as noted) and page design by
Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr.
Assoc. Dean of Academic Administration
Northwood University