According to research, public speaking anxiety is the single most common fear people possess, even more debilitating than the thought of death itself; it emanates from a primary fear of feeling judged and the vulnerability inherent in being subject to the scrutiny of strangers. The level of discomfort ranges from mild nervousness to outright, paralyzing dread, depending on the individual, and usually manifests itself physically through nausea, excessive sweating, accelerated heartbeat, a "cotton mouth" sensation and feelings of vertigo.
Research has shown that anxious public speakers fall into two categories, depending on their biological make-up. Some experience a primarily cognitive reaction of apprehensive nervousness; those with a faster-firing nervous system respond more physiologically with indications of nervous arousal.
Speakers in the cognitive classification obsess about the potential implications of an embarrassing performance, focusing disproportionately on their own perceived imperfections and miscalculating the likelihood of a disastrous on-stage meltdown. Conversely, those responding physiologically manifest bodily sensations such as lightheadedness, dizziness and rapid heartbeat. These physical sensations can be overwhelming and, for some, a source of panic.
Nervous speakers can temper anxiety by studying their topic extensively and familiarizing themselves with it inside and out. A heightened sense of certainty about the subject matter at hand is a helpful way to alleviate anxiety. Also, practice sessions delivered to less sizable audiences can increase confidence and gradually make larger crowds more manageable.