Public Speaking (Social Anxiety)
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I have to talk to an audience of 25 people soon. Every time I think about standing up and talking to them I develop dry mouth and have palpitations. Why is this?"

It sounds very much as though you are anxious. This is a very common occurrence, especially if you are not used to public speaking. In fact, these symptoms can occur in almost any situation when you get anxious. The reason is due to the surge of the hormone produced in the body as a natural consequence of stress – adrenaline. Adrenaline is also known as the ‘flight and flight’ hormone. It prepares the body for a period of stress. The hormone causes the heart to race allowing blood to be pumped to the muscle faster in case they have to be used. To allow this to happen, and to increase the blood supply to the more important organs, the body is able to direct blood away from less essential organs such as the skin. This results in the skin going pale and clammy and the mouth to go dry.

Many people find that the best way of overcoming stress in your situation is to practice what you want to say in front of a mirror. If you look at your self in the mirror it will help you to stand in front of your audience whilst being less anxious. The more often you practice, the less anxious you may become. This also allows you to go over what it is you are going to say. I’m sure most of your audience will not expect you to be word perfect, and will allow you the odd stumble.

If you feel that it would be very difficult for you to get up in front of an audience and speak, or if you get these symptoms in other situations, such as at the checkout or in a bank, then it may be that the stress is limiting your everyday life. In those situations it maybe worthwhile talking to your doctor, because they may be able to offer you help in other ways. Certain medications may calm down the stress response, and in extreme circumstances seeing a psychologist may help. However, with the situation you are about to face, it may be best to remember a technique often quoted which is to imagine your audience in their underwear; this will reduce your anxiety levels, and may make you smile.