sealPurdue News

December 1998

Attitude change will cure communication anxiety

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A little change in attitude can calm the butterflies in your stomach before a job interview or business presentation, says a Purdue communications professor.

"We tend to think of situations like these as performances, and in that case, it's no wonder we get keyed up," says John Greene, an expert in communication anxiety.

He says the anxiety felt in those instances is the same as that triggered by any situation in which we feel we are being evaluated. "The trick is to change our focus. Whether it's an interview or a speech or whatever -- what we need to do is concentrate on communicating versus performing," he suggests.

Greene says folks have no problem with nerves when chatting with family or socializing with friends. That's because the focus is on sharing thoughts and ideas with no worries about appearance or making a mistake. He says that even during more formal occasions, communicating is made easier when people focus on the ideas they want to get across rather than on making a good impression.

Greene says people tend to judge themselves more harshly than others when it comes to public speaking. "Natural hesitations, 'ums' and the like are all a part of normal speaking," he says. "For the most part we tune those out when we hear them because as listeners, we are focusing on the message and not on the way it's presented."

But a little rehearsal is good even if that job interview or presentation isn't a performance. "It's a disservice to yourself not to prepare for these situations," he says. Greene suggests practicing answers to tough questions or reading over your presentation several times before giving it.

However, don't prepare to the point that you sound scripted. "Spontaneity is a good thing -- and so is enthusiasm. Both can give any presentation sparkle," he says.

A few nervous willies are good, too. "When we're nervous, we're aroused, we have energy. Research shows that we do our best when our level of arousal is neither too low or too high -- but somewhere in the middle," Greene says.

Greene researches communication-skill acquisition, communication anxiety and the mental processes involved in speaking.

CONTACT: Greene, (765) 494-3320; e-mail,

Compiled by Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page