Dealing With the Fear of Public Speaking

Updated September 1, 2022
Woman afraid of public speaking

Whether you are preparing to deliver your first speech or have presented in front of a crowd many times, public speaking can be stressful. It is not unusual to experience fear or nervousness when speaking in front of large groups. Some people experience mild anxiety, while others develop an intense fear when they are faced with the responsibility of giving a speech.

Tips to Manage the Fear of Public Speaking

Whether your fear of public speaking is mild or severe, there are things you can do to overcome and manage the stress. Start by being kind to yourself with positive self-talk. Kind thoughts will help you put anxiety-ridden, negative thoughts out of your head and give you the courage to properly prepare and deliver an effective speech.

Acknowledge the Stress

Public speaking can definitely be stressful, so it's important to realize that it's not realistic to expect to be free from stress prior to delivering a speech. Instead, it's a good idea to acknowledge that you might always feel at least some stress when it comes to delivering a presentation in front of an audience. Stress leads to physiological responses, so it's not unusual to experience physical signs of stress, such as sweating or butterflies in the stomach, prior to - or during - a presentation.

Recognize Stress as Positive

Stress is not always a bad thing. Some stress can be a good thing. Positive stress, also known as eustress, can be a sign that your body is physiologically responding so you can be ready to rise to meet a challenge, such as delivering a speech. Using the stress you feel to fuel your presentation can help you be excited and impassioned about our topic. You can use stress management strategies to channel your racing heart into enthusiasm for your speech, instead of letting the stress overcome you.

Prepare for Your Presentation

Preparation can help you feel more comfortable with your audience and the information you are presenting. There are a lot of ways you can prepare before your big presentation day.

  • Analyze the audience: Learn about your audience and what they are seeking to learn from your presentation so you can adapt effectively to their interests.
  • Prepare thoroughly: Research your topic, being sure to seek information from a variety of credible sources. Organize the content into a presentation that flows well.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Rehearse your speech out loud in front of people who will give you honest feedback. Focus on developing a conversational tone rather than memorizing or reading.
  • Review the setting: If possible, visit the speech location in advance of your presentation in order to know what the setting is like. If this isn't possible, ask for a photo or diagram of the room in which you will be speaking.
  • Visualize success: A big part of being successful is visualizing success. Visualize yourself sharing helpful information with an appreciative audience and handling any challenges that occur with grace.

It's also a good idea to lay out your clothing for the presentation the evening before, as well as to go to sleep early that night. This will help make sure you are well-rested and organized in advance of your speech.

Use Relaxation Techniques

It's important to take some time to clear your mind and relax in advance of your speech. Mindful meditation or guided meditation can be helpful, as can techniques like imagery relaxation and deep breathing techniques. You may even find it helpful to go for a walk, do your favorite workout, get a massage or write in your journal. The key is to find a relaxation technique that works for you.

Avoid Unproductive Thoughts

Don't let yourself fall into the trap of unproductive thought patterns, which can be a source of stress and fear. For example, if hold yourself to an unreasonable standard of perfectionism or convince yourself that you will not do well despite the fact that you are well-prepared, these unproductive thoughts can add to your stress and cause you to feel overwhelmed. Once you identify thoughts that are creating more stress for you than helping, you can work on replacing those thoughts with positive ones.

Engage in Positive Self-Talk

Self confident woman pointing finger at her reflection in mirror

Take on the role of being your own cheerleader to get yourself in the right frame of mind before you begin your speech. Give yourself a pep talk inside your head - or out loud in front of the bathroom mirror or in your car - before you go on stage. Fill your mind with positive thoughts, such as reminding yourself that you are well prepared for this speech. Say out old that you know the audience and the topic, and that you have practiced your presentation and are ready to deliver it.

Connect With the Audience

When you begin your speech, try to connect with one or two friendly faces in the audience around the room. Relax, smile at them, and make intermittent eye contact. This will help you feel like you are speaking to a few people rather than a lot of people. It can also be helpful to observe the audience. Are they excited and animated? Are they laid back? Try and match their facial expression and delivery to help you connect with them and become more comfortable.

Seek Professional Assistance

If public speaking causes you extreme anxiety and it's something you have to do on a regular basis, you may want to consider seeking assistance from a professional mental health counselor or clinical psychologist who specializes in helping clients work through stress and anxiety. Working with this type of professional may provide you with helpful insights into psychological interventions that may best help you overcome your fear of public speaking.

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