Public Speaking Anxiety Hits the News!

Are you a high-trait or a low-trait?

CBS News reports on a new study done by Paul L. Witt, Ph.D., of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, that states you are probably one or the other.

"What was surprising was the anxiety pattern. People with low-trait anxiety get nervous before speaking but begin to relax once they get started. People with high-trait anxiety, however, are anxious when they start speaking and get more anxious as they go on."

Witt calls the high-trait folks "Sensitizers" and the low-trait folks "Habituaters."

But what I find affirming is that this study shows that it all comes down to focus. The high-traiters are people who focus on the unpleasant sensations or negative thoughts they are experiencing while the low-traiters have the ability to focus in a way that makes them more comfortable and at ease within the public speaking context.

While I appreciated this study, I think Dr. Witt’s suggestions on how to deal with the anxiety are pretty lame. He’s right when he suggests that "it’s a matter of gaining confidence by learning a simple set of skills." It’s just that the skills he suggests don’t really work.


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3 replies
  1. Sarah Malik
    Sarah Malik says:

    Hi Nancy – I clicked onto the article (thank you for sharing it) and I was quickly riled up by what it said, “Here’s the bad news. You cannot change your traits. They are part of your personality. If you are a person with high-trait anxiety, there’s no simple way to become a low-trait-anxiety person.”
    This is just not true. To me, it reflects a superficial way of understanding what personality, behavior and physical experiences are.
    If we change what we believe about ourselves, about who we are and what we are capable of, there is a way to love the human experience of interacting – inside of groups and in front of groups.
    This is no small thing, however, altering our sense of what it means to be human and be in relationship with other humans in social situations.
    Here’s why I think the philosophy that the article suggests of + visualize + practice + change your focus is not deep enough: What good does visualizing do if you still believe you have something to hide in front of others? What is the point of shifting focus if you feel ashamed and inferior to others?
    When the real beauty of the experience lies beneath the level of language or thinking in the brain, but in our being, our body, our humanity, our spirit, our heart. Something that the cognitive brain (that is busy visualizing and practicing) does not get.

  2. Nancy Tierney
    Nancy Tierney says:

    Yeah, Sarah, you are SO right!

    While I appreciated the study, I felt Dr. Witt’s conclusions about the study were way off. As were his suggestions.

    It would have been wiser for him to say that these high-trait, low-trait aspects are just tendencies or habitual ways of reacting based on our beliefs about ourselves and how we interpret those experiences of anxiety.

    Though I do believe that even in the process of shifting how we feel about ourselves, what we believe, and how those beliefs effect what we feel, we are still asked to make a shift in our focus. When we are redefining what human interaction means to us, that also requires us to focus on what we want to experience in those interactions, not just react to what we don’t want.


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  1. Confidence of personality or humanity

    I clicked onto the article, Help For Public-Speaking (thank you blogger and confidence coach Nancy Tierney for sharing it) and I was quickly riled up by what it said, Here’s the bad news. You cannot change your traits. They are part of your personality…

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