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Feeling Anxious as One Prepares to Present to An Audience Discussion

Feeling Anxious as One Prepares to Present to An Audience Discussion

Question Description

I’m working on a immunology discussion question and need the explanation and answer to help me learn.

The Learning Activity titled “An Overview of Anxiety” mentions the four types of communication apprehension. Share a story about a time when you dealt with one of these apprehensions when speaking in front of an audience, and briefly explain how it meets the criteria for the description. What was the outcome of this speech? Based on your experience, how would you prepare for future speeches?

An Overview of Anxiety

In public speaking, some degree of anxiety is normal; however, not all anxiety is the same.

Read this section to learn about anxiety and identify the differences between trait and context anxiety, and audience and situational anxiety.

All Anxiety Is Not the Same: Sources of Communication Apprehension

We have said that experiencing some form of anxiety is a normal part of the communication process. Most people are anxious about being evaluated by an audience. Interestingly, many people assume that their nervousness is an experience unique to them. They assume that other people do not feel anxious when confronting the threat of public speaking (McCroskey, 2001). Although anxiety is a widely shared response to the stress of public speaking, not all anxiety is the same. Many researchers have investigated the differences between apprehension grounded in personality characteristics and anxiety prompted by a particular situation at a particular time (Witt, Brown, Roberts, Sawyer, & Behnke, 2006). McCroskey (2001) argues there are four types of communication apprehension: anxiety related to trait, context, audience, and situation. If you understand these different types of apprehension, you can gain insight into the varied communication factors that contribute to speaking anxiety.

Trait Anxiety

Some people are just more disposed to communication apprehension than others. As Witt, Brown, Roberts, Weisel, Sawyer, and Behnke (2006) explain, “Trait anxiety measures how people generally feel across situations and time periods” (p. 88). This means that some people feel more uncomfortable than the average person regardless of the context, audience, or situation. It does not matter whether you are raising your hand in a group discussion, talking with people you meet at a party, or giving presentations at work, you are likely to be uncomfortable in all these settings if you experience trait anxiety. Although trait anxiety is not the same as shyness, those with high trait anxiety are more likely to avoid exposure to public speaking situations, so their nervousness might be compounded by lack of experience or skill (Witt et al., 2006). People who experience trait anxiety may never like public speaking, but through preparation and practice, they can learn to give effective public speeches when they need to do so.

Context Anxiety

Woman standing on a stage Several different types of anxiety can impact a speaker’s comfort level.© Jupiterimages/

Context anxiety refers to anxiety prompted by specific communication contexts. Some of the major context factors that can heighten this form of anxiety are formality, uncertainty, and novelty.


Some individuals can be perfectly composed when talking at a meeting or in a small group; yet when faced with a more formal public speaking setting, they become intimidated and nervous. As the formality of the communication context increases, the stakes are raised, sometimes prompting more apprehension. Certain communication contexts, such as a press conference or a courtroom, can make even the most confident individuals nervous. One reason is that these communication contexts presuppose an adversarial relationship between the speaker and some audience members.


In addition, it is hard to predict and control the flow of information in such contexts, so the level of uncertainty is high. The feelings of context anxiety might be similar to those you experience on the first day of work at a new job. You do not know what to expect, so you are more nervous participating in everyday speaking than you will be after your first day or first week.


Additionally, most of us are not experienced in high-tension communication settings. The novelty of the communication context we encounter is another factor contributing to apprehension. Anxiety becomes more of an issue in communication environments that are new to us, even for those who are normally comfortable with speaking in public. So, you might be perfectly comfortable presenting to your peers in a conference room you are familiar with, but, when asked to give the same presentation in a large auditorium, you may be nervous.

Most people can learn through practice to cope with their anxiety prompted by formal, uncertain, and novel communication contexts. Fortunately, most public speaking classroom contexts are not adversarial. The opportunities you have to practice giving speeches reduces the novelty and uncertainty of the public speaking context, enabling most students to learn how to cope with anxiety prompted by the communication context.

Audience Anxiety

For some individuals, it is not the communication context that prompts anxiety; it is the people in the audience they face. Audience anxiety describes communication apprehension prompted by specific audience characteristics. These characteristics include similarity, subordinate status, audience size, and familiarity.

We all prefer to talk to an audience that we believe shares our values more than to one that does not. The more dissimilar we are compared to our audience members, the more likely we are to be nervous. Studies have shown that subordinate status can also contribute to speaking anxiety (Witt et al., 2006). Talking in front of your boss or teacher may be intimidating, especially if you are being evaluated. The size of the audience can also play a role: the larger the audience, the more threatening it may seem. Finally, familiarity can be a factor. Some of us prefer talking to strangers rather than to people we know well. Others feel more nervous in front of an audience of friends and family because there is more pressure to perform well.

Situational Anxiety

Situational anxiety, McCroskey (2001) explains, is the communication apprehension created by “the unique combination of influences generated by audience, time and context” (p. 43). Each communication event involves several dimensions: physical, temporal, social-psychological, and cultural. These dimensions combine to create a unique communication situation that is different from any previous communication event. The situation created by a given audience, in a given time, and in a given context can coalesce into situational anxiety.

Note. Adapted from “All Anxiety Is Not the Same: Sources of Communication Apprehension,” by J.S. Jones, A. Goding, D.I. Johnson, & B.A. Attias, 2014, Stand Up, Speak Out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking, Chapter 3, Section 2. Copyright 2014 by Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

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