Skip to content

Public Speaking Anxiety

A. Control your “stage fright”:

1) Recognize that you are not alone in suffering from stage fright.

2) We all appear much more confident than we feel.
• Ask for a friend’s feedback when you practice your speech.
• Make a tape of yourself performing the speech.

3) With experience, stage fright is almost always reduced.
• After you have given just one speech, you’ll realize that your greatest fear—fear of failure—just doesn’t come true!

4) Realize that your audience is there to hear you succeed, not fail.
• We hope to hear something interesting and valuable. The empathy between speaker and listeners, actor and audience, is the surest relief from stage fright.
• Another way to look at nervousness is that it is “nature’s way” of helping the speaker be alert, sharp, and up to doing a good job.

5) Concentrate on WHAT you are saying, not on HOW you are saying it.
• Adjust your thinking to a “communication orientation” rather than a “performance orientation.”
• By concentrating on the ideas, the importance, the relevance of what you are sharing with the audience, you will reduce your nervousness. Think: More than anything else at this moment, I want these listeners to get what I have to say to them.
• Focus on the BIG PICTURE. Don’t let little details distract you.

6) Let your nervousness have an outlet.
• There is no valid reason to hold back your nervousness, just let it be.
• Outlets for nervousness include talking about it, wring hands, meditate, breathe deeply, or complete relaxation exercises.
• Float. Let your body tremble if it trembles. If you stop being nervous about being nervous, you will conquer the feeling.
• Recognize that some anxiety about the speech indicates that you feel it is important, and you will prepare a better speech for your audience—that emphasis on communication is the most important aspect of the speech!

• If you prepare carefully you’ll greatly reduce your concern about what you are going to say. Your nervousness will be easier to control.
• Preparation will help make you confident.
• Understand that your time is limited and prepare efficiently. Use what time you have in the best way you can.

B. Practice Your Speech:

1) Go over your speech three to six times.
• If you practice more than a half dozen times it begins to be memorized, and then if you forget an exact word you may begin to feel uncomfortable. Practice the speech just enough so you can glance at the note cards and quickly pick up the idea of what you want to present.
• Don’t under-practice either. Fewer than three times through may not imbed the ideas of the speech for easy recall when you face your audience.

2) Practice to remember ideas, not words.
• The point of your practicing should be so you’ll fix in your mind two things:
1. When looking at notes you can recall specific ideas, points, concepts & information to share
2. The sequence or order of those points and data.
• If you try to remember exact wording for those things, all of the dangers of memorizing surface.

3) Practice mentally rather than aloud.
• You will want to practice aloud as well (as you may want to tape record the speech to prepare for it), but mental practice is a valuable way to start your preparation for the speech performance.

4) Practice from your actual note cards, not a script.

5) Push yourself through the entire speech for each practice.
• Even if you know you are stumbling in certain areas of the speech and need to make some changes, push through the entire speech. Then when changes are made, practice the ENTIRE speech again.
• This type of practice and some reworking will give the flow of the speech more polish and clarity as a whole.

6) Don’t over-practice
• Already stated, the dangers of memorizing occur. If memorized, the delivery will sound artificial, flat and uninspired.

7) Don’t practice gestures unless you are SURE that will help you.
• It is helpful to practice gesturing, but not helpful to practice gestures. You want the general practice of adding interest to your speech, but not the practice of specific gestures at particular points in the speech.
• Gestures should be in the natural flow of speaking and conversing.

8) Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you are sure it will help.
• It can be distracting to try and remember what you want to say while watching yourself say it.

9) Tape record or videotape one or two practices.
• Remember that when you review this you are not looking for minor appearance points like mussed hair, etc, rather you should concentrate on total impact of what you say and how you say it.
• Play back the recording several times so you can make a careful study of your strengths and weaknesses.
• If you can get past just seeing yourself on the screen, you will probably be pretty satisfied with what you see, and it may serve to provide additional confidence.

10) View—or listen to—yourself objectively.
• Look for ways that you can be more effective…honestly, not critically!

11) Practice using audiovisual aids, if any.

12) Time your speech.
• Most of us speak faster before real audiences than we do during practices, but others are quite the opposite.
• Stick to assigned guidelines, BUT speak at your own natural rate.  PRACTICE BUILDS CONFIDENCE!

C. Present Your Speech:

1) Be Yourself.

2) Step up to speak with confidence.
• Be assured. Be confident.

3) Get set before you start to speak.
• Take a few seconds to get set. Place your notes on the speaker’s stand and take your time.
• Let go of the anticipation anxiety.

4) Establish contact with your listeners
• Your eyes can establish a contact with your listeners that can move you from being just a voice up there delivering audio.

5) Begin without referring to your notes.

6) Talk WITH, not at, your listeners.
• Your words should be coming from your mind and heart, not from the note cards.
• Think of your listeners as individuals to whom you are talking, not a large, impersonal audience.

7) Refer to your notes only occasionally.
• Pauses are not a bad thing. Pauses add authority to your delivery.

8) Avoid grunts like: “ah,…” “so…” “Well…” “Ya know…”
• Stop at the end of an idea. Stop at the end of a sentence. If you need time to think about the next words to use, pause.

9) Maintain an appropriate posture.
• Determine if the speaking situation is formal or informal, and establish the appropriate posture—like your words, your ideas and your speech—for that situation.

10) Gesture.
• Be natural—conversational. Remember to only use body movements that you use automatically when speaking to someone.

11) Don’t fidget or distract from content.

12) Appear to enjoy speaking.
• Your enjoyment will come through to your listeners and your speech will be more effective.

13) Hide, don’t emphasize, your errors.
• If it is a minor fumble, ignore it. If it is important enough to correct, then repeat it. Pass off the fumble as unimportant, because it is. Smile. Relax.

14) Use your aids effectively.
• Make sure everyone can see them.
• Talk to your audience, not your aids.

15) Speak loudly enough.
• You may want someone to signal you if you are not speaking loudly enough. Maybe a gesture of cup to ear.

16) When finished, move out with confidence.

Information included in “Keys to Successful Public Speaking” has been excerpted from How to Speak Like a Pro by Leon Fletcher.