It’s the big day: you’ve been invited to speak on your work to an auditorium of your peers. You’ve looked forward to this day ever since the beginning of your career — nothing can stop you now.
But as you stand on stage, suddenly, your heart races. Shivers run down your spine, your palms sweat, and you can’t remember the first sentence of your speech. You don’t scare easily, but you’d rather be doing anything but what you’re doing right at this moment; which is standing in front of a room of people giving a presentation.
If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to tell you the most important thing to remember while reading this post. If you’re ready to tackle your public speaking anxiety this very minute. Are you ready? Here it is:
There is nothing wrong with you.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that public speaking anxiety is normal. Current estimates suggest that over 40% of the general population struggles with public speaking anxiety, also known as glossophobia.
It’s a subset of social anxiety disorder, which many people experience and live with. Even the most confident and experienced speakers feel anxious before delivering a presentation. It’s a natural response to the pressure of being in front of an audience.
So don’t beat yourself up for feeling nervous. It’s important to remember that anxiety is all perfectly normal and a result of your brain’s fight or flight response.
In short, it’s our biology that’s the culprit, and it has nothing to do with our self-worth, value, or ability.
The issue isn’t about having anxiety symptoms, it’s about when these symptoms begin to hold you back from success and shining in front of an audience. Luckily, the ability to reprogram our perceptions, refocus our mindset, and make the space feel as familiar as our own homes is an ability that each and every one of us is able to do already.
Why are people afraid of public speaking?
We have established that public speaking anxiety is a common fear; most people experience some form of it when talking in front of a group or an audience. But why is this the case? To truly conquer public speaking anxiety, it’s crucial to understand its roots.
Many people report that their fear of public speaking is rooted in:
Fear of judgment: we all want to be perceived as competent, confident, and knowledgeable when giving a presentation. When we hyperfocus on this desire, we sometimes forget about the excitement of demonstrating our knowledge, and worry about being judged.
- A fear of rejection: similar to the fear of judgment, we can sometimes develop nervous energy surrounding a fear that we will not only be judged, but judged harshly. We worry that our peers will not only pick apart our presentation, but our self worth, too.
- Lack of speaking experience: while I firmly believe everyone from a complete novice to a public speaking expert can conquer stage fright, it’s much easier to navigate these feelings if you’ve made public speaking routine.
- Lack of preparation: practice makes permanent, and we feel much better when we’ve dotted all of our “i”s and tightened up the speech as much as we can. Being better prepared is always desirable.
- Pressure to perform perfectly: all of us want to do well, but when we don’t give ourselves the grace to make mistakes every now and again, we focus on the wrong things and forget about the audience. We get too hung up on executing the little details, that our main message suffers.
So now we know the big “whys” about where public speaking anxiety comes from. It’s not so scary when you see that these reasons are all concrete, and they can be dealt with, right? The best part is that you have the ability to overcome these feelings, and emanate confidence from every part of your body.
5 Simple Tips For Managing Public Speaking Anxiety
I believe a “one size fits all” approach only works for neckties, and public speaking tips are no different. Your situation is unique, and your lived experiences have colored your perceptions about why public speaking seems as scary as facing a deadly threat. What I’m interested in doing, however, is not telling you how to stand or what to do with your notecards. I want to refocus your thoughts on public speaking to recalibrate your mindset from the negative to the positive, which is a much more effective strategy that anyone can use for delivering their speeches.
Practice and Preparation
One big lesson I learned was the power of practice. The more well-practiced and prepared I felt, the more confident I became. Preparation is the main ingredient: thorough research, organizing my thoughts, and practicing my speeches were pivotal, not only in getting the presentation closer to what I wanted, but also in understanding myself. Preparing well allows us to enter any space with confidence, secure in our position as the expert. A practice run can make a world of difference. Practice your speech in the mirror as many times as you prefer. If you have a time limit, practice it first without worrying about going over time — pare it down after every run. Then, practice it with close friends and source their feedback. Friendly faces are much less daunting to perform in front of when you’re just starting out. Take note of any areas in the presentation that emphasize the main points, places you can shorten, or areas where you might need to slow down. The more control we have over the process, the less scattered we feel during the main event.
There’s no way around it: speaking in front of strangers places us at our most vulnerable. Open to judgment, we often forget that vulnerability is one of a speaker’s greatest strengths. Opening up to our audience allows them to see our authentic selves, and rather than run from it, it’s extremely powerful to dive head first. How often in life do we get to showcase our true selves, where our passion for our topic reaches our audiences in ways that are personal, powerful, and real? Superficial charm is a huge red flag to audiences. And when you think about it, your authentic self is what brought you to this place in your career to begin with! Relating to your audience as a real person with equal amounts of strengths and flaws fosters a supportive, rather than a combative, environment.
Breathing is something we do that’s so automatic, it’s hard to believe that having control of our breath will transform our emotions almost instantly. Slow and intentional deep breaths help me ground myself in the present moment. From there, the heart relaxes, and the nervous system quiets down. No more shaking hands, and the fear subsides. Your breath is your lifeline. Relaxation techniques like breathing, mindfulness, and remaining intentionally present are all rooted in our ability to master our physical selves. It’s as easy as taking a deep breath, and remembering your power.
Negative self-talk can quickly dominate our thoughts, and fuel the fire of anxiety. Cognitive restructuring is the process of challenging these thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations. Instead of ruminating on thoughts like, “I will embarrass myself if I make a single mistake,” we restructure this thought as “A single mistake does not determine my capabilities — I am well-prepared and knowledgeable on my topic.” This mental shift opens up the door to even more direct changes in perception. Rather than seeing every presentation as an obstacle to overcome, I began to see them as welcome opportunities to share my experience, and help my audiences achieve their best. Positive thoughts are stepping stones to more positive feedback, and we get better at it every time we do it. When we see every opportunity as a chance to speak about our passions, the confidence comes as naturally as breathing.
As we rediscover our mastery over our mental and physical selves, it’s always advised to continuously practice in front of the real thing. In a way, public speaking is a muscle — the more you practice it, the stronger it becomes. Start with giving your speech to a group of colleagues, who may or may not be especially close friends. As your comfort level grows, seek out more opportunities to speak in front of larger groups, like joining local speech clubs or participating in workshops and master classes. If you’re a student, the communications courses can be especially great resources. Each step forward will bring newfound confidence, expand your comfort zone, and open you up to hidden opportunities to get your message out to the world.
Speech anxiety can be difficult to deal with, but it does not define you. The more we know our minds, the more control we have over our speech’s direction. I encourage you to deeply engage with these techniques I’ve shared, and think about which area of speaking you feel could benefit from any, or all of them.