COPING WITH PUBLIC SPEAKING ANXIETY
Moira Kostić-Bobanović, Ph.D.
Head of department of foreign languages
Faculty of Economics and Tourism, Preradovićeva 1, 52100 Pula
University of Zagreb
Student of the Faculty of Economics and Business, Zagreb
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the teaching of affective strategies helps students’ reduce their public speaking anxiety. We used the questionnaire Personal Report of
Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA) developed by McCroskey (1970; 1992) in order to
determine the level of anxiety that a student experiences while holding a speech. At the beginning of the semester, the students were asked to fill out the questionnaire by approximating the level of distress that they experience while holding a public presentation. After the teaching of affective strategies at the end of the semester, the students were given the same questionnaire, with the above described instructions.
The results of the study indicate that the students experienced significantly less anxiety after they had been taught how to manage their distress, by means of affective strategies. The implication for future research on assessment and amelioration of public speaking anxiety are considered.
Key words: speaking anxiety, affective strategies, public speaking
Anxiety is defined as a state of uneasiness and apprehension or fear caused by the anticipation of something threatening. Public speaking anxiety is very common among both college students and the general population.
Persons with public speaking anxiety often avoid anxiety-producing social or performance situations, but when unavoidable, these situations are endured with feeling of intense anxiety and distress. Also, anticipatory anxiety frequently occurs as an individual imagines the situation in advance of the actual experience (e.g., worrying each day about a presentation to be given in a class several weeks in the future). Although individuals with these types of anxious responses often recognize that their fear is excessive and/or unreasonable, they are unable, without assistance, to change their responses in these situations. Individuals with public speaking anxiety most often experience a variety of symptoms in a public speaking situation, including palpitations, sweating, gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, muscle tension, and confusion. (North & Rives; 2001) Burnley et al.(1993) states that, “Approximately 85 percent of the general population report experiencing some level of anxiety about speaking in public.” Rossi and Seiler (1989) indicate that, “Public speaking or
stage fright has been investigated and studied since the mid-1930’s.
Many people who speak for a living, including actors, businesspeople, and politicians, experience public speaking anxiety. In fact, some of these experienced public speakers feel that a little nervousness before a performance or speaking engagement gives them the ability to perform at their best. However, for some people the anxiety becomes so intense that it interferes with the ability to perform at all.
In the case of students, this may lead to avoiding certain courses or even majors where oral presentations are required, never speaking in class, or deciding against certain careers because they would require occasional speaking before a group. Students who are very anxious about public speaking in class may sometimes also avoid social events they would like to attend or may not talk to classmates they would like to get to know.
Foreign language anxiety has been said by many researchers to influence language learning. Whereas facilitating anxiety produces positive effects on learners' performance, too much anxiety may cause a poor performance (Scovel, 1991).
Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1991) have found that anxiety typically centers on listening and speaking. Speaking in class is most frequently difficult for anxious students even though they are pretty good at responding to a drill or giving prepared speeches. Anxious students may also have difficulties in discriminating sounds and structures or in catching their meaning. Price (1991) investigated by asking questions about what made students most anxious in foreign language class. All of the subjects answered that having to speak a foreign language in front of other students resulted in the most anxiety.
According Beatty, 1988; Beatty, Balfantz & Kuwabara, 1989; Beatty & Frieland, 1990 public speaking anxiety may stem from numerous sources, such as public speaking skills, fluency in a foreign language, emotional predispositions towards public speaking, and characteristics of the public speaking situation itself.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether the teaching of affective strategies helps reduce high levels of public speaking anxiety.
The research was carried out on a total of 202 subjects, freshmen students majoring in tourism, marketing, finances, management, and informatics at the Faculty of economics and tourism “Dr. Mijo Mirković” in Pula. All of the subjects were fulltime students. There were 75 male
students (37%) and 127 female students (63%). They attended lectures in Business English 6 hours per week.
2.2. Procedure and Instruments
The research was carried out in two phases. The first measuring was conducted at the beginning of the first semester.
In the first phase of research the students were asked to fill out the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA) (McCroskey, 1970; McCroskey & Richmond, 1992) questionnaire by approximating the level of distress that they experience while holding a public presentation. Then, they were taught how to use 9 affective learning strategies in order
to reduce public speaking anxiety during one semester or 90 hours of English language lectures.
The following 9 affective strategies were adapted from the questionnaire developed by Kostić-Bobanović (2004):
; I try to relax my muscles by breathing deeply every time I feel nervous about
; I listen to music for relaxation.
; I laugh in order to relax, whenever I feel nervous about speaking English.
; I make encouraging statements to myself to take wise risks in language learning
even though I might make some mistakes.
; I give myself a reward when I have done something well in my language learning.
; I pay attention to physical signs of stress.
; I use a list in which I register my feelings, motivation and attitudes about English
; I write down my experiences in a language learning diary.
; I talk to someone I trust about my feelings concerning the language learning process.
In the second phase, after the teaching of affective strategies at the end of the semester, the students were given the same PRPSA questionnaire, with the above described instructions. The questionnaire consists of 34 questions measuring feelings associated with giving a presentation and has been reported to be unidimensional. Subjects were asked to indicate the degree to which the statements apply to them, by marking whether they strongly agree (1), agree (2), are undecided (3), disagree (4), strongly disagree (5) with each statement. It is highly reliable (alpha estimates > .90).
Richmond and McCroskey (1998) reported that normalized PRPSA scores fall into five categories (numbers in parentheses are percentages of a normalized population fitting each category): scores of 34–84 indicate low anxiety (5%); 85–92 moderately low anxiety (5%);
93–110 moderate anxiety (20%); 111–119 moderately high anxiety (30%); and 120–170 high
anxiety (40%). Mean scores on the PRPSA have rarely been reported, as the instrument was designed and used primarily for identifying highly anxious students. “Highly anxious” is
defined operationally as someone with a PRPSA score equal to or greater than 120. The questionnaire is scored by first summing the 22 positive items, then summing the scores of the reversed items, and finally subtracting the total from 132. Scores range from 34 to 170, with a higher score representing more public speaking anxiety.
The questionnaire was completed without any personal identification (except sex and code) to insure anonymity and increase the probability of honest responses.
The reliability of the scale in this investigation is .86.
2.3. Data analysis
The results from the questionnaires were processed using SPSS for Windows (Statistical Package for Social Sciences). The difference between public speaking anxiety in the first and second semester was investigated by paired t-tests.
3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Table 1: PRPSA at the beginning and end of the semester
CATEGORIES NUMBER OF STUDENTS
OF ANXIETY BEGINNING OF SEMESTER END OF SEMESTER
Low 14 37
Moderately low 18 28
Moderate 80 101
Moderately high 39 23
High 51 13
With regards to the PRPSA scores, at the beginning of the semester a great number of our students experienced significantly high (51) and moderately high (39) levels of public speaking anxiety (Table 1).
After the teaching of affective strategies the PRPSA numbers significantly varied in comparison with the previous attained results. Namely, a significantly smaller number of students reported high (13) and moderately high (23) levels of distress while speaking in
public. Therefore, a significantly greater number of students reported low (37) and moderately low (28) levels of public speaking anxiety.
Graph 1: Comparison of the percentage of anxiety levels between the beginning and the end
of the semester