Public speaking anxiety seems to me to be a little like the ‘tax man’. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you do, it will come knocking at your door at some point.

For some of us the knock is all too loud and frequent while others may get away with just a little tapping every now and then.

There have been countless books and articles written to provide strategies and techniques to conquer the fear of public speaking and many of them work extremely well. For the sufferer though it’s a big issue and telling them to just practice and breathe may be good advice but for most it isn’t enough.

The bad news is that there isn’t a ‘magic cure’; if there were the psychologists and communication specialists who have been researching the issue for many years would have found it by now.

I once heard someone say: ‘We all get butterflies in our stomach when we are presenting and that’s fine, the trick is to get them flying in formation.’

The good news is that there is a great deal you can do to get those butterflies to fly in formation and get the taxman to knock more softly on your door. The caveat is that it takes time, commitment and practice.

Tip 1 – Improvise

Before you book yourself onto a public speaking course join an evening improvisation class. In a safe fun and free thinking environment a good teacher will take you through lots of exercises to show you that you can be yourself in front of others and speak calmly under pressure

Tip 2 – Try TED

www.ted.com is a free online conference channel where you can hear some brilliant speakers give inspiring talks on technology, entertainment, design or just about any other topic you can think of. For me it’s really like an open university of public speaking where there is so much to learn.

Experienced and inexperienced presenters speaking on a vast array of topics open up the door for the nervous speaker to experience in the comfort of their own home what great presenting and not so great presenting looks like.

Tip 3 – Start as you mean to go on

Each time we have a nervous speaker in our workshops we always hear the same thing. ‘The first two minutes are the worst but once I get going I’m usually okay’.

It’s entirely normal and it’s an issue which affects even the most seasoned presenters. Practice your opening line over and over again until you know it like the back of your hand. Once you’ve delivered it, your breathing will change and you will find your flow.

Tip 4 – Dress for success

If you look great and feel comfortable you will find that it’s a lot easier to focus on your audience than yourself. Take time to get it right and go as far as to practice your presentation in exactly the same outfit and shoes you intend to wear on the day.

Tip 5 – Get to love the sound of your own voice

Most of us speak on ‘autopilot’. In other words for the most part we are not even really conscious of how we sound or sometimes what we are even saying until we’ve said it.

Practice using your voice, stretching it and most importantly listening to it.

Several days before an important presentation I make a conscious decision and effort to take a few passages from some of my favourite books, ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill or ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie, and I read them out loud. I first read them with my normal reading voice and then I play around with my volume, pitch, tone and pace to challenge my vocal cords.

Tip 6 – Phone a friend

Once you’ve prepared your presentation call a friend to sit and speak with you. Talk them through your presentation and ideas. Don’t present or perform it, just share with them what it’s all about, how you see things and how you’d like your audience to feel.

As you do so, you may see the difference between the way you have a conversation about it and the way you present your idea and you may wish to then focus on being more conversational.

Tip 7 – Challenge your beliefs

A belief is nothing more than a thought we keep thinking over and over again. It doesn’t make it either true or even real, it just feels like it and therefore we come to believe it.Write down everything that makes you nervous about presenting, everything that worries you, for example:

– ‘I’ll forget my speech’

– ‘They won’t like me’

– ‘I’ll embarrass myself’

Once you’ve written down everything on your mind, alongside it write down the very worst thing that can happen as a result:

– ‘I’ll forget my speech’

– ‘I’ll look stupid and they’ll never take me serious again, I’ll be a laughing stock’.

Then for each fear be brutally honest and realistic with yourself and write down alongside as a percentage the likelihood that your fear will be realised.

In the world of presentation coaching we have a highly technical term for these unfounded anxieties. We call them ‘head stuff’.They don’t go away or change until we repeatedly challenge them.

Tip 8 – Don’t just wait, do something different

Nervous speakers are often way ahead of themselves in the future worrying about everything that could happen during and after their presentation way before they’ve even stand up to speak.

Just before you are scheduled to speak do something different, orient yourself to the present.

– Listen to your favourite music

– Count backwards

– Focus on your breathing for a few minutes

– Press against a wall or do something that engages you physically

– Practice slowing tensing and relaxing every muscle in your body individually and relaxing it

– Repeat some tongue twisters

Tip 9 – Create a clear path

One of the many reasons a nervous speaker’s anxiety is heightened is because they have either too little structure to their presentation or too complex a structure and so they worry they will lose their way.

Create a clear and easy path for both you and your audience, one that is easy to remember and follow so that if you do stray you can always find your way back.


Attention – Make sure the very first thing you do is get their attention. Say, show or do something that will spark their curiosity and heighten their interest immediately.

Relevant – Help them to relax right from the start by knowing for certain that they are in the right room and what you have to see is what they really need to hear.

Message – Don’t be like a comedian and save your punchline for the end. Make your point early and ensure it’s clear and powerful.

Examples – Don’t leave it to your audience to try to work out what it is you mean. Bring your message to life by giving them clear, relevant and compelling examples of what you’re talking about.

Do – If they leave the room wondering what on earth it is you want them to do with the information you’ve just shared then you’ve wasted their time and yours. Be very explicit about want you want from them now.

Tip 10 – You might feel a 4 but they see an 8

If confidence were visible on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing very little if any confidence at all and 10 making you feel like you could walk on water, what you feel and what you’re audience experience may be two entirely different things.

I’ve lost count of the number of people we’ve coached who deliver a brilliant presentation and when you ask them how they felt on that scale of confidence we hear them say 4 or lower.You would be amazed at how many people may feel a 3 or a 4 when their audience easily sees a 7 or an 8.

We see it every day. Have faith that it’s extremely unlikely that your audience will ever see just how nervous you feel.

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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com