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Public Speaking Anxiety and Its Effect On Students


Public speaking anxiety is a problem for many people. Some say that it is the number one fear of Americans over death. There have been many studies done in the general field of public speaking anxiety. I am going to review five articles that touch on various issues surrounding public speaking anxiety. All five of these articles are from Communication journals and are at most five years old.

Literature Review

There have been many studies done on public speaking anxiety in the field of communications. I have chosen these five articles to review because I believe that put together, they give a good background on the recent research done on this subject. The first article looks at student’s memories of speeches they have given.

The second article looks at how public speaking anxiety affects speech preparation. The third article looks at how speech anxiety changes due to audience pleasantness and familiarity. The fourth article looks at when anxiety actually starts for students given a speech assignment. The fifth article summarizes a study where people with no formal background in communication are asked to explain why people experience public speaking anxiety.

The first article is entitled “Communication apprehension and implicit memories of public speaking state anxiety.” Sawyer and Behnke discussed two studies in this article. The first is labelled “Short term memory”, and the second is labelled “Long term memory”. In study one, their subjects were 44 undergraduate students (22 males, 22 females) that were taking a required basic speech communication class. Each student gave a short two-minute speech to a classroom of 20-25 students.

The speeches were videotaped and later played back and reviewed by the instructor. Directly after giving their speeches, the students were asked to fill out Spielberger’s (Speilberger, Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1969) STAI (A-State) scale, which asks the student how he/she felt while giving the presentation. They also filled this out several weeks before the speech, on how they felt about public speaking in general. Then they were asked to fill out the scale after class. The results showed that recollections of state speaking anxiety decrease over time.

The second study participants were 40 undergraduate students (20 male, 20 female) enrolled in a basic speech communication course. At the beginning of the semester, each student filled out McCroskey’s PRCA (1978). Each student gave a 5-minute speech in front of 25 other students and immediately after filling out Spielberger’s scale. They were asked one week later to fill out the scale again. They again found that the student’s recollection of anxiety had decreased over time. The level of decrease was contingent on the student’s level of communication apprehension.

The second article is called “Speech anxiety affects how people prepare speeches: A protocol analysis of the preparation processes of speakers.” This article was written by J. Daly, A. Vangelisti, and D. Weber. They begin by telling the reader what a serious problem public speaking anxiety is. This alone gives me the feeling that they are doing this study because they really want to help people who are suffering from this anxiety.

They took fifty-one undergraduate students who were enrolled in a large introductory lecture class on communication. They completed a measure of public speaking anxiety five weeks before the project. They randomly selected student from the class and came up with a group that represented the norm in terms of age, race, and gender. Each student was asked to prepare a speech in front of observers and speak out loud what he/she was thinking.

The student then went and performed the speech in front of the class who were unaware of the study. The class then rated the student. The student was asked to answer some questions about their feelings. They found that there was “a significant and inverse relationship between public speaking anxiety and the average performance rating. Speech anxiety was unrelated to goal setting, presentation concern, organization, and revising/editing. It was related to other things such as audience concerns and text generation.

The third article is titled “The effects of audience pleasantness, audience familiarity, and speaking contexts on public speaking anxiety and willingness to speak.” This article was written by P. MacIntyre and K. Thivierge. Their hypothesis was the following:

H1: More familiar audiences are expected to generate less anxiety and a greater willingness to speak.

H2: Pleasant audiences are expected to generate less anxiety and a greater willingness to speak.

H3: The first two hypotheses may be superseded by a significant interaction between audience familiarity and audience pleasantness for both dependent variables. Pleasant friends are expected to be the most preferred audience. Of particular interest is the contrast between pleasant strangers and unpleasant friends and their relative effects on anxiety-arousal and willingness to speak.

H4: Speaking context also may affect the hypothesized relations. Therefore, a three-way interaction is expected involving audience familiarity, audience pleasantness, and speaking content.

They took 95 students from first-year communication classes and asked them to respond to short vignettes describing six types of audience situations for public speaking. The results show that the students anticipated less anxiety speaking to familiar audiences (supporting H1), pleasant audiences (supporting H2), and audiences in the professional content. H3 was not supported, but a three-way interaction was found supporting H4.

The fourth article is titled “Milestones of anticipatory public speaking anxiety.” This article was written by R. Behnke and C. Sawyer. This study is somewhat similar to the study in the first article, as it was done by the same two authors.

In the first study done in this article, they selected 49 students (25 male, 24 female) from a basic speech communication course. The study was done at the end of the semester when the students had already had experience and training in public speaking. Students were asked to fill out Spielberger’s scale describing how they felt about each of their milestones or episode (Behnke & Sawyer 1998).

They found a V-shape pattern in the student’s responses. “Trait anxiety was the second-highest at the time of the assignment announcement, dropped to a lower level during the preparation stage, and rose to the highest level immediately before speaking.”

In the second study, they took 48 undergraduate students (24 male, 24 female) who were enrolled in a basic communication course. They were assigned to give a five-minute speech in front of the class and videotaping.

They were asked to fill out Spielberger’s scale three times. The first time was directly after the speech was assigned, the second was while they were preparing for the speech, the third time was directly before the speech. Anxiety was highest directly before the speech. It was second highest when they were given the assignment, and lowest while preparing for the speech.

The last article is titled “What do people think causes stage fright?: Naïve attributions about the reasons for public speaking anxiety.” This article was written by A. Bippus and J. Daly. There were two phases to their study.

Participants in both studies were taken from introductory communication classes at a large public university. There were 18 men and 24 women ranging from ages 17-31 (avrg. 19), in the first phase. The second phase saw 192 students (52 men, 140 women) ranging from ages 17-48 (avrg. 20).

In the first phase, they asked 42 students to write down reasons why they thought people experienced stage fright. They found the highest-rated was the Mistakes factor, followed by Unfamiliar Role, Humiliation, Negative Results, and Rigid Rules.

For the second phase, they collected surveys from 258 students (of which they used 192). The surveys asked questions about how the student felt about public speaking. They categorized 38 of the students as low apprehensive and 41 as high apprehensive.


It is obvious to me that public speaking anxiety is definitely a problem amongst many people. The only study that I read to find out exactly what percentage of students suffer from public speaking anxiety was the last one. That is why I have chosen to research this topic more. I think that their study was well done, but I think there are more students suffering than they found. I did not come across any studies to find what students do to overcome their public speaking anxiety. Which is why I have chosen to research this topic as well.

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Public Speaking Anxiety and Its Effect On Students. (2021, Feb 08). Retrieved August 30, 2021, from