Eight Tips to Decrease Public Speaking Anxiety


September 24, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Let’s face it: Many of us would rather dive into a vat of boiling oil than give a speech.

Public speaking is one of the major phobias. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By following the eight tips below, you can decrease your public speaking anxiety and give an effective speech.

Let’s start with the first one, which is to be adequately prepared.

1. PrepareTaking the time to prepare thoroughly will give you confidence. This means more than taking notes or doing research. You need to find out as much as possible about your audience and tailor your speech to them.

Are they knowledgeable about your subject? If not, you may have to define some of your terms.

Furthermore, the words you choose will be different if your audience is composed of grammar school students rather than a gathering of nurses. For every audience, you’ll have to craft an attention-getting beginning, make the middle of your speech interesting, and the ending memorable.

As part of your preparation, go to the place where you’re going to deliver your speech. During the recent political conventions, we saw several scheduled speakers familiarize themselves with the stage and their surroundings.

Walk around the room. Put your hands on the podium. Check the lighting. Doing these things will help you become familiar with your surroundings and give you some measure of control.

2. Practice

Give your speech to a group of friends. Stand in front of a mirror and practice.  You might also videotape your speech. Make sure your pace is right–not too fast or too slow.

  • Have you paused in the right places?
  • How does your voice sound?
  • Are your gestures animated?
  • What about your posture?
  • You aren’t leaning on the podium, are you?

The more you  practice your material, the more comfortable you will be delivering it.

3. Question Your Imaginary “What Ifs”

What if you stumble and fall? What if you forget part of your speech? What if your audience laughs at you?

True, each of these situations would be unpleasant, but you would survive. Do you really think people will remember that your voice trembled or your legs shook when you gave your speech?

Maybe–for about five minutes. People are much more concerned about themselves than they are about your successes or failures. They probably won’t even notice that you’re nervous.

4. Use Guided Imagery

Picture yourself, the expert, walking confidently to the podium, greeting your audience with a smile, and sharing your knowledge.

Do this a few times a day. Just visualize, in your mind’s eye, everything going well, but also throw in a few problems, then see yourself dealing with them. Make it realistic.

5. Focus on Your Material

Concentrate on your material rather than on how you’re feeling.

You’ll do a much better job if you train yourself to focus on your content, and you may even forget about your nervousness.

Take the focus from inside to outside. Focus on helping your audience and doing your best.

6. Breathe

Studies have shown that deep breathing lowers your blood pressure and helps you to relax.  To begin, sit down and eliminate all distractions. Then take a deep breath while pushing out your abdomen.

Hold the breath for a moment, and then exhale, letting your entire body go limp. Do this several times a day, and it will become a habit you’ll turn to in times of stress.

7. Avoid Caffeine

The caffeine that wakes you in the morning can give you the jitters if you drink it later in the day.

Skip the coffee, and you’ll feel calmer. And don’t forget– chocolate and many sodas contain caffeine. Drink water instead, or tea (without caffeine, of course).

You may even want to try going without caffeine for a few days. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, you will have to take things slow at first.

8. Just Do It

Avoid giving your speech, and it will be more difficult next time.

If you’re willing to endure a little discomfort in the short term, the next time you have to give a speech will be easier for you.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot.”

A little apprehension is a good thing.  It gives you the energy to do well, and it means you care.  Use these tools to control your anxiety, so that it doesn’t prevent you from giving a speech or from doing anything else you want to or have to do.

Written on 09/24/2012 by Mary Ann Gauthier. Mary Ann is a writer and an adjunct instructor of English at a private college. She teaches listening skills to her business communication students and is also working on a book about the therapeutic benefits of journaling. Photo Credit:
Martin Fisch

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