5 Tips for Overcoming Public Speaking Nerves

What are you afraid of? Heights? Spiders? Public speaking?

Most people are terrified of speaking publicly. Do you remember the last time you had to deliver a presentation during a class or work meeting? How did you feel in the moments leading up to your speech? Was your heart racing? Were your hands sweating? Did your mouth dry up like the Sahara Desert? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, don’t fret! You’re not alone! The 2014 Chapman University Survey on American Fears found that 25.3 percent of respondents cited public speaking as their biggest phobia, topping the list of fears including heights, needles, and clowns. Yikes! No need to worry – Here are my tips for overcoming public speaking nerves!

Embrace the nerves

If you develop anxiety before a speaking engagement, that is completely normal. Nervousness is a healthy sign that your body is getting “psyched up” to deliver a speech or presentation. The body produces adrenaline during stressful situations which leads to symptoms like shaking hands and perspiring brows. Rather than trying to eliminate the stage fright, embrace it and call it “stage excitement.” Elayne Snyder, author of Speak or Yourself – With Confidence explains stage excitement as “a zesty, enthusiastic, lively feeling with a slight edge to it…it’s still nervousness, but it feels different. You’re no longer victimized by it; instead, you’re vitalized by it. You’re in control of it.”

Take a deep breath

Deep breathing can reduce one of the major symptoms of nervousness – rapid heartbeat. Before a speaking engagement, inhale through your nose for five counts and exhale through your mouth for five counts. Repeat this breathing pattern a few times. (If you can close your eyes too, even better!) You should notice a decrease in heart rate. (Check out this article for more breathing techniques.) To take it one step further, consider practicing meditation. At the start of class, before my students deliver their speeches, I play a five-minute guided meditation through Headspace, a free mobile app that also offers a subscription plan to access more content. Even if you’re a meditation novice like myself, just take it seriously and you will notice a decrease in nervousness!

Your nervousness isn’t always visible to others

You’ve just delivered a presentation in your college class. Your nerves were through the roof during the entire delivery. Your heart was racing and your palms were sweating. You sit down and your fellow classmate compliments your speech. You respond, “Thank you! I was so nervous.” Your classmate replies, “Oh, really? I couldn’t tell.” Remember, most symptoms of your nervousness and anxiety are not evident to others. You might have sweaty palms, but your audience won’t notice unless you start wiping your hands off on your pants! Do your hands shake when you hold your notes? Opt to keep them on the podium! Do you suffer from the dreaded nervous dry mouth? Keep a bottle of water at arm’s reach! There’s nothing wrong with pausing during your presentation to take a swig of water. This will prevent any unsightly lip licking or awkward articulation.

Appreciate the pregnant pause

I find when a student loses their train of thought during a speech, they tend to spew out a bunch of vocal fillers (ex. like, uh, um, etc.), and/or apologize to their classmates for the delay. Stumbling over your words or losing your spot during a speech is completely normal. Martin Luther King Jr. stumbles twice during his “I Have a Dream” speech. I guarantee that’s not what you took away from that infamous delivery! If you do lose your spot or need a second to gather your thoughts, take a pause. Take a deep breath. Take a sip of water. There’s nothing wrong with silence. Embrace it.

If you make a mistake, no one will care

When was the last time you watched a friend, classmate, or colleague deliver a speech? Did they make a mistake? Stumble over their words? If they are human and not a robot, the answer is probably “yes.” Did you make an effort to draw attention to that speaker’s mistake? Did you tweet about it? Did you text your buddies to make fun of the tongue-tied delivery? Probably not. Remember that! If you wouldn’t ridicule a speaker’s mistake, why do you think someone would ridicule your own mistake?


Pause? 272/465” by Dennis Skley is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Take a deep breath and continue” by David Hood is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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