Photo courtesy of Robert Burns.

Robert Burns, a communications professor at the University of Rhode Island has spent many years working with over 16,000 people to overcome their speech anxiety.

From NFL players, to popstars, professors and students, Burns works with those who have a fear of speaking or are unable to speak in front of large crowds. He uses The 7 P’s of Speech Anxiety Reduction, a guide to overcoming speech anxiety that he put together after years of research and experience in the field.

‘The 7 P’s’ include positive perception, positive thinking, positive self-talk, positive visualization, positive breathing, positive preparation and positive behavior. Burns works with students individually to focus these aspects towards their way of learning and specific needs.

“I do empower my students with my 7 P’s of Speech Anxiety Reduction and I give them the tools to stand and deliver a successful speech with confidence, competence, coherence and credibility,” Burns said. “There is nothing sweeter than to see our students grow and succeed as public speakers and speech communicators.”

Burns believes that with these seven key points in mind, anyone can overcome their speech anxiety and have the ability to speak confidently. He is especially proud of the improvement he has seen among the thousands of people that he has worked with.

“Now that I have my voice, it is like that song from Aladdin, it is a ‘Whole New World’ for me. Thank you for having the patience, knowledge, and experience to lead me out of my panic world of fear and uncertainty,” one student, who must remain anonymous due to confidentiality agreements said.

Burns explained that he is especially motivated by the quote, “Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”

He uses the quote as a motto to help students overcome their public speaking fears.

“I help educate fears out of my students,” Burns said. “And, I have helped business and professional women and men, sports stars, pop stars and leaders in the government and the military. [They have] come to me for over 25 years for help and there is nothing better than to see them grow.”

Burns attributes his successes mostly to overcoming his own obstacles. As a child, he had a severe stuttering problem and severe shyness. He then developed lalophobia which is the fear of making sound.

“I used to be beaten up by kids… they would call me ‘the kid that can’t speak,’” Burns said. “I would sit in the classrooms and pray that nobody would pick on my speech or lack thereof.”

After years of not speaking or being able to share his opinions and thoughts, Burns finally decided that he would work to overcome his speech anxiety after watching students in his class cut off others, and speak even if they didn’t know what they were talking about.

“It is like a whole new world when you finally learn how to communicate,” Burns said. “It is isolating when you can’t speak.”

As a child, Burns was highly influenced by great speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. He started working at URI in 1989 alongside fellow professors, Agnes Doody and Vanessa Quainoo. But over his last 30 years as a professor he has worked at many different universities, spreading his knowledge of speech anxiety and helping others to overcome it.

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Theresa Brown
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