From the Lab: Phone a Friend

In The Science of Speaking, I present many different strategies for managing nervousness. Today and tomorrow, we’ll explore two more.

Today’s strategy comes from a 2003 study in Biological Psychiatry. Like many other studies related to speech anxiety, it was based on the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which includes preparing and delivering a 5 minute speech in which you pitch yourself as the best candidate for a job.

One group of participants (all of whom were male) was asked to bring their best friend (male or female) with them, while another group was asked to come alone. During the preparation period, the friends were asked to give the participants social support. They were told to “offer both instrumental and emotional support.” Given that “they would know best what kind of supportive behaviors would fit the individual coping preferences of the subject,” they were simply encouraged to “be as helpful as possible during the 10-min preparation for the speech task.”

While all of the participants were stressed by giving a speech, the socially supported participants were significantly less stressed. This suggests that another good way you can decrease your speech anxiety is to lean on your friends for social support, asking them to help in whatever way will help you. This could be listening to your speech and providing feedback, or listening to you talk about your nerves and telling you its all going to be okay. Regardless of the exact kind of help provided, social support can be another great way for you to feel less nervous about your speech.