Does it seem that some people experience more bad luck, more negativity, and more anxiety than other people? What about when it comes to public speaking nerves? What causes some people to be more nervous than others?

It might have something to do with their explanatory style. According to author and wellness coach Elizabeth Scott, explanatory styles are “how people explain the events of their lives. When something happens in our lives, our explanatory style is part of how we process it, the meaning we attach to it, and how we assess it as a threat or a challenge in our lives.”

Sometimes called attributional styles in the world of psychology, they are split into three main pairs: stable vs. unstable, global vs. local, and internal vs. external. Explanatory styles are concerned with two primary things: “explanations of behavior . . . and inferences (attributing blame, for example).” Let’s look at these categories to see how they are related to public speaking anxiety.

Stable vs. Unstable

With this category, it can be tempting to see “stable” as positive and “unstable” as negative. We have connotations from psychology that we usually associate with the words. But it’s important to let those meanings fall away for our purpose here. For this category, think about public speaking and ask yourself, are my abilities as a speaker fixed or changeable? When you have a stable view of a public speaking, you place yourself in a rigid box like “good at it,” “bad at it,” “hate it,” love it,” etc. When you have an unstable view, you realize that change can happen over time. In other words, you can improve if you work at it. Where do you fall on the stable vs. unstable continuum in regard to public speaking? And how might that affect the level of nervousness you have about it?

Global vs. Local

The global versus local category covers the scope of your feelings about public speaking. Ask yourself, is my presentation performance part of a widespread pattern or is it an isolated event? Think about the differences in a pessimist and an optimist. They see the events of their worlds very differently. If you tend to think negatively about most things, that globalized view will likely carry over to your thoughts about public speaking. The same is true if you see the world as generally more positive. Where do you fall on the global vs. local continuum? If you have a history of bad experiences with public speaking, do you think that pattern is likely or unlikely to continue? Or do you think each presentation is a new opportunity?

Internal vs. External

The internal versus external continuum has to do with locus of control. For this category ask yourself, who or what is responsible for my public speaking success? If you believe you are responsible for your success or failure, you have an internal view. If you believe success or failure is tied to things beyond your control, you have an external view. Both sides can produce a certain amount of presentation anxiety. But they can also help you diagnose what went wrong and why.

If you feel like you didn’t prepare well for a presentation, you might feel shame if it doesn’t go as well as it could have. On the other hand, maybe you were well-prepared but were given a poor room set up or bad information about the demographics of the audience.This might cause you to be stressed about things that were outside of your control. In either case, it’s important to set aside shame and blame and focus instead on doing the best you can at the time. After the presentation, you can process what happened and look at both the internal and external factors that affected the presentation. Then you can decide what to change for next time. Where do you fall on this continuum most of the time? How does that relate to your level of presentation anxiety?

Knowing more about your explanatory style can help you put your presentation anxiety in perspective. Once you know why you feel the way you do about public speaking, you can work to improve your performance, reframe negative thinking, discover what leads to success, and decide what is inside or outside the scope of your control.

If you find yourself dealing with high levels of presentation anxiety, Ethos3 can help. Ready to master the art of public speaking?


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