Public Speaking Anxiety Tips

Use these public speaking anxiety tips to help calm your nerves before your next speaking engagement, or to help you with overcoming performance anxiety.

We'll work through an example on this page to show you how this can help you with your specific speech anxiety.

In the example you have to give a 10 minute talk at work about a project you're working on. It's an information type talk on a fairly technical subject. You've only been with the company for 6 months and some of the audience have been there for 15 years, so there's a ton of experience in the room.

1. Understand Exactly What You're Anxious About

The first of our public speaking anxiety tips is to write it down somewhere. Make a list if you need to.

In our Example your list turns out to be just 2 items long.

  1. I'm worried about losing my place and getting lost in the middle of the presentation.
  2. I'm anxious that I'll get my facts wrong and that I'll be pulled up by the experienced people in the room. Then everyone will see that I don't really know what I'm talking about.

2. Understand Why You Have Been Asked To Give The Presentation

The second of our public speaking anxiety tips is to do this before you address your list. There's normally a reason, and it can do your confidence a lot of good to remind yourself exactly why you, and no-one else, have been tasked with this presentation. You may not have the deepest subject matter knowledge but that doesn't matter at all. Your job during that 10 minutes is not to be an expert - it's to communicate with the audience.

In our example it turns out that you have been given the responsibility to get a particular job done, and it's your organisational and communication skills that got you the nod.

3. Understand That What You're Anxious About Might Indeed Happen

The third of our public speaking anxiety tips is to accept this fact because it's true. You might lose your place. Some poindexter in the audience might try and make you look stupid. These things might happen regardless of how much preparation you do.

In our example you realize that yes, this is true, and somehow you immediately feel a whole lot lighter about the whole thing. Your inexperience will be used by most people to excuse any shortcomings, and it starts to dawn on you that it's actually quite unlikely that you'll drop the ball badly (you also remember that your boss and mentor wil be there to back you up).

4. Understand What You Can Do To Stack The Game In Your Favor - And Then Do It

For the last of our public speaking anxiety tips, I used the word game quite deliberately, to remind you that it's not life and death, but also that you need to perform. Understand the rules of the game for your presentation.

In our example let's look at the first anxiety - losing your place. It's an easy one isn't it? You use a Powerpoint slide show (and you use it well), or you use notes (and you use them well too.)

With notes I strongly suggest you get one of those folders with clear plastic pockets designed to take an A4 or foolscap size page. Write your notes in a big enough font for your eyesight (for me that's getting bigger every year but my wordprocessor can handle it:) Then lay them out so you start with 2 pages facing you (page 1 on the left, page 2 on the right). That way you get to use 2 whole pages before you have to turn the page. Never, ever, ever use small cards that fit in the palm of your hand so we can't see them. I've got news for you - We know you're using notes! ... no matter how tiny your secret scraps of paper are.

Be bold. Use notes if you want to help give you confidence that you'll stay on track. Just don't only read them word for word - if that's all you're going to do then why not just e-mail them and save everyone's time?

Ok now the second anxiety - being shown up by the old grey dogs in the audience. Again this one's really easy to deal with. Get them on your side before the talk. How do you do that? Get their input as you're researching, and then quote them (accurately) to support your case. You could even invite them to make a few brief comments during your talk if that helps to achieve your aims.

Understand There's Always A Reason When Presenters Go Wrong

In our example if you showed up unprepared, with a disorganoised collection of papers with notes scrawled all over them - then I'd imagine you would get lost. I've seen it far too often and so has your audience.

Likewise if you show up pretending to know more than 15 year veterans, you deserve to get crucified, and I hope you do. I say that with compassion because I know from my business coaching days that people don't normally change until they suffer enough :)

The Bottom Line

This little example illustrates an important point about public speaking anxiety. You can see that each of our public speaking anxiety tips starts with the word 'understand'.

Fear, anxiety, nerves, whatever ... they're all just different names for feeling bad. And you often feel bad when the mind doesn't understand something, and instead just goes ahead and invents a seemingly insurmountable, and therefore terrifying problem.

The reality is that outside of the mind - problems don't exist. Reality simply presents us with a bunch of situations. Some need to be dealt with (by preparing a good set of notes for a talk for example). Others just need to be observed (oh, here come those pre-talk butterflies again).

Either way why add to the situation by calling it a problem?

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