Communication Apprehension

One of the greatest rewards of being a communications instructor is playing a small part in my students’ journeys as they learn to cope with and/or overcome their fears associated with oral communication.  While some struggle to communicate on an interpersonal level or fear speaking within small groups, the most common fear associated with communication occurs with public speaking.

According to communication scholars Virginia Richmond and James McCroskey, in their textbook titled Communication Apprehension, Avoidance, and Effectiveness, approximately 20% of the population, suffers from Communication Apprehension (CA).  CA is defined as “the fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons.”  One of the most common types of CA is Context-Based CA.  Context-Based CA occurs when a person becomes extremely apprehensive about communicating within a particular circumstance—most commonly, public speaking.

When I visit with students enrolled in my Fundamentals of Speech classes at Labette Community College about coping strategies to deal with CA, initially the students assume that because I’m an instructor there is no way I could ever relate to feeling nervous about speaking to others.  This is when I share my own story about the fears I once associated with public speaking.

Often people can trace their CA back to a particular time in their lives when they first experienced the “fight or flight” response to public speaking.  For me, this unforgettable moment occurred in junior high school when my Future Homemakers of America advisor approached me to run for a district office.  I was always very outgoing and I thought it sounded exciting so I agreed to it right away.  Little did I know the profound effect this experience would have on my life.

As the requirements to run for office came to light, I became increasingly frightened.  I would have to write, memorize, and present a lengthy speech before a group of my peers from across the district who would then vote on my “worthiness” for office.  Although it was twenty years ago, I still remember those gut wrenching feelings of apprehension as though it were yesterday.  Nevertheless, I took on the challenge and was elected to office.  Although I was very young, the process proved to be rewarding and even life changing.  From that moment on, I knew there had to be something I could do to overcome my fear of public speaking.  This was the beginning of a lifelong endeavor.

As an undergraduate student at Pittsburg State University I chose to pursue my studies within the field of communication.  As a graduate student, I was afforded the opportunity to help teach a Speech Communication class under the direction of the late Dr. Pete Hamilton, Pittsburg State University communication department chair.  Dr. Hamilton designed the course specifically for students who suffered from CA.  Upon graduation, I continued teaching the course for a few more years and was continually amazed at the progress of so many of the students.  Not every student completed the course ready to hit the public speaking circuit, but they left with the tools necessary to help combat their speaking anxiety.

LCC’s Fundamentals of Speech class offers opportunities that extend beyond learning how to organize and present public presentations.  Don’t ever think you can’t overcome or at least learn to effectively cope with communication apprehension.  Speech helps students develop a newfound confidence in themselves; and to be a part of that journey as an instructor is truly an amazing experience!

Tonya Bell, LCC Communications Instructor