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Your Guide to Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

I’ve heard of all the standard public speaking tips, like making eye contacts with your audience, plan your speech, practice, speak with volume, and standing up straight. Although, they are valuable tips, none of these tips address the real problem underlying my speech delivery. Namely, my fear of failure, and the crippling nervousness I experience when standing in front of a crowd of people.

I’m sure you can relate to the nervousness I’m referring to. Even if you are Tony Robbins or an expert in speech delivery, at some point in your life, you’ve felt nervous when giving a presentation. I used to hate public-speaking, I would get so nervous that the only thing I heard was the sound of my heart bouncing out of my chest, the only thing I felt was my stomach tightening up as I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants. In the past, I’ve dealt with this fear by avoiding presenting in front of people, whenever possible. But I’ve since learned that the best way to deal with any fear is facing it. I started looking outside of myself, then learning and testing out various techniques for dealing with fear. I began practicing advice on giving outstanding presentations. In my experimentation, I have found that several techniques have worked miracles in helping me give effective and fearless presentations.

I am not an expert on public speaking, but I am an avid student on the subject. I’ve spoken at Universities on recruiting trips for amazon.com and on various topics within the company. This is my testing ground for the techniques explained below. I am still learning, just as you are. I hope you find these tips useful in preparing and delivering your next presentation.

1. Focus on Creating Value Rather Than Your Self

I believe that the number one reason why we get nervous while delivering a speech is because we focus too much on ourselves. We become worried of how we’ll look in front of people, and concerned with what others will think of us. We try our best not to look stupid, while in the process this thought is making us more nervous, thus making us look ‘stupid’. While we think about appearing incompetent, we fear it more, until all our thoughts are connected to the fear. This forms a downward spiral, and a self-fulfilling prophecy as we experience the failure we feared.

While preparing for your speech, focus on the goal; the reason that your presentation will be useful to the listeners. Change your focus by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What value am I providing for my audience?
  • What is the most important thing for them to take away from my talk?
  • How will this talk/topic benefit them?

I believe that these are the most important questions to ask, for several reasons:




  • If we are not providing value, then we are just wasting time. Both our own and our audience’s time.
  • You will have a clear goal for the presentation. With a single goal in mind, it will be clear what words should be used and which pictures need to be painted. The result will be a simple, cohesive and comprehensive speech design and delivery.
  • You will see your presentation from the eyes of the person sitting in the chair listening, instead of the person talking. Many presentations are centered around the presenter, as this is very easy to do when designing presentations without thinking about the end user/audience.

While giving your presentation, put all of your focus on conveying this value to your audience. Since we can really only focus on one thing at a time, we cannot focus on both on giving the most outstanding presentation and the worry of what others think of us at the same instant. Focus entirely on giving your audience value, and do this with your whole being. This will shift your point of focus from yourself, and into giving something of value to your listeners. In doing so, you will witness your worries decrease.

 

2. Visualization & Affirmations

We feel nervous when we imagine ourselves as a public failure. Our minds become full with this unpleasant, mind-created, fearful image of ourselves. Instead, fill your mind with visions of success, confidence and joy.

Visualization:

  • On the morning of your presentation day, spend 5-15 minutes calming your mind and centering yourself. During this time, you can try the following visualization exercise.
  • Be at a comfortable place without interruptions. Turn off the phone.
  • Close your eyes, focus on your breath for about a minute. Breathe deeply and slowly.
  • See yourself as a third person in your imagination. (I suggest viewing yourself as if the camera is on the ground and looking up at you. This creates an image of power and strength.)
  • In this image, see yourself with complete confidence, strength, charisma and personal power. See yourself standing tall and strong.
  • Visualize yourself giving the presentation. See yourself walking in, see yourself smiling at the people in the room. Feel the energy of confidence radiating from your smile, from your voice. See yourself at the front of the room, with an audience of people smiling back at you. Feel the energy throbbing within you, ready to deliver an outstanding talk to these eager listeners.
  • See yourself giving an outstanding presentation in the most ideal scenario. See the confidence already within yourself, expressing your ideas to the audience.
  • See yourself after delivering the talk. “It was easier than I thought!” you say to yourself. See the positive impact you’ve made after the presentation.

Positive affirmations about yourself are a powerful tool to boost confidence. When creating an affirmation, you are giving positive suggestions to your subconscious, so that your mind will be filled with positive images of yourself. I practice writing self affirmations during especially nerve racking situations. If you have yet to try creating positive images of yourself, you’re going to think it sounds ridiculous. Essentially, you are tricking your subconscious mind into believing you feeling differently than you do right now. What you need to understand is that you are who you believe you are. Once you release the possibility that visualizing self affirmations will not work , and you believe you are the person that you want to be, then you will understand. Until you believe the affirmations, keep repeating them, and your mind will start to believe it. This belief in yourself will help you in situations requiring self-confidence.

Affirmations:

  • Write down a series of positive statements applicable for speaking, and for building self-image and confidence. The following are some examples to help you get started:
    • I am a fantastic speaker and I deliver engaging presentations.
    • I am confident and powerful.
    • I create tremendous value for other people.
    • I am an outstanding person.
    • My work is important. People rely on my excellence.
    • I kick ass. :)
  • Repeat these statements out aloud as much as possible. It is important to stay them out aloud, but if you really can’t, verbalize them in your mind. Before a sales meeting once, I was repeating similar affirmations to myself as I got ready in the morning, and in the car as I drove to the meeting. I sold with flying colors. That’s when I really learned the power of affirmation.
  • Write and print them on paper, or tape them on walls. I’ve seen some people taping these on bathroom mirrors, so that it’s the first thing they see in the morning. I have some of my most influential personal affirmations taped to the wall across from my bed, so that I see them and are reminded every day.

3. Acknowledging Your Fear

As with overcoming any negative emotion, one of the most effective techniques I’ve found is fully facing your emotions. Acknowledge your fear by fully feeling the feelings of that fear. Become the observer of that emotion, allowing it to flow and see the source of that emotion. As you observe it and allow it to happen, you will feel less and less of the fear.

Please see following articles on the subject:

4. ‘Fake It Till You Make It’

Choose a mentor, someone who inspires you and excels at giving speeches. You don’t have to know or have a personal relationship with this person. Anyone who you admire, whom exemplifies the skills you desire. I like to use Tony Robbins or my friend Richard Greene for this purpose.

Once you have a mentor in mind, put yourself in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. Imagine you are this person.

Ask yourself:

  • What would [mentor] do in this situation?
  • How would [mentor] present this point?
  • How would [mentor] engage the audience for this point?

Carrying their energy, how will they present in this situation? Whenever I tried this technique, I’ve always felt as if a gust of energy had hit me, and I noticed that I could then articulate points very quickly and clearly.

5. Authenticity

Be yourself. Be honest, be pure, be open, show your vulnerabilities. Share your thoughts with the audience even if it sounds awkward. This will have an endearing quality to touch your audience’s hearts, and this will help your audience to understand you. I once saw a girl speak at a timed speech, she screwed up the timing for the auto-slides, and was completely embarrassed. She talked about how embarrassed she was and tried very hard to keep going. The entire audience was sympathizing with her and was rooting for her to succeed. When we see authentic qualities in a person, we can’t help but to relate with that person on a human emotional level. You become a friend without having been formally introduced.

Be present in the moment and allow your self-expression to flow freely in that moment. Express yourself beautifully, fully and naturally. Without having to focus deeply on being yourself, you will naturally express yourself in your own unique way.

Does being authentic seem contradictory to imagining you are your mentor (#4 – Fake it till you make it) ? Understand that you can feel the same confidence and energy as your mentor, but express the words as your true self. Even if you are picturing yourself as a mentor, you will naturally convey your own ideas, in your own style and with your own words.

 

6. Engage the Audience at the Beginning

I’ve found myself to be most nervous right before giving a presentation and at the very start of a presentation. I can think of few moments more nerve racking than walking in front of a silent audience all staring at you blankly. Once I realize that I’m not going to die from delivering a speech, I am able to relax. I like to start every talk with ice-breakers to crack the silence and make the audience aware that they are encouraged to participate. I also like to make them laugh to gain their full attention.

Here are some ideas of ice-breakers and audience engaging techniques:

  • Ask the audience a question. Simple question that anyone can answer. Encourage shouting of answers. Gently make fun of the audience if no one answers. When people answer your question or throw out guesses, the attention is placed on them rather than yourself.
  • Interact with your audience: Get the audience to make a physical movement, such as raising their hand, giving their neighbor a high-five, pointing at some body, or patting themselves in the back. This unexpected movement from the audience will help the audience be more engaged in the rest of your speech, since they’ve already psychologically invested in you by taking a participating in your request. If people have been sitting for a long time, their movement also helps to get their blood flowing and keep them awake. *smiles*
  • Tell a joke.
  • Show a funny picture or video that’s somewhat related the topic at hand.
  • Get the audience to repeat what you said. Same reasoning as physical movement.
  • Get the audience to repeat your main points, which you’ve reiterated over and over throughout your presentation. Make sure you have no more than 3 main points, and make them easy to remember and repeat. Remind the audience of your main points throughout the talk, so that your audience is familiar with what these points are.

How do you feel about public speaking? Do you have any tips to share with us? We’d love to hear them in the comments. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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51 thoughts on Your Guide to Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

  1. John,

    This is for you and everyone else. Join Toastmasters.

    Particularly when I am teaching my fear of public speaking classes, I tell my audience that everyone one is unique and very special. They each have a story to tell. You certainly have a story to tell.

    You may be speaking now; however, even the best speakers can use Toastmasters. I’ve seen paid speakers who should join Toastmasters. By joining Toastmasters, you will learn to use your voice, body language and other speaking attributes effectively and purposefully. You will learn to be an effectively evaluator, thereby learning to listen intently. Through Table Topics, you will learn to speak on your feet effectively and comfortably.

    Essentially, Toastmasters is the place to practice and get valuable and constructive feedback. Why practice on a live audience when you can practice within a small group of knowledgable speakers who are willing to support each other. All you have to do is to go to http://www.toastmasters.org, click on FIND (located on the left hand column) and enter your zip code. I would suggest visiting 2 or 3 clubs before deciding on joining a club.

    I’m a chemist by education and was a computer/business consultant before deciding on a coaching/trainer career. I don’t know your background, but I have seen many chemists, engineers and other “techies” give technically enriching and informative presentations — but they were delivered rather poorly. Toastmasters will help anyone from those who are dreadfully fearful of speaking to professional speakers who want to fine-turn their presentation skills and to practice in a safe environment. Again, I encourage you to join Toastmasters.

  2. I’m glad to see Toastmasters getting all this love. It is a very inexpensive way to learn by doing. The environment is one of critique, not one of critisicing.
    I have Toastmasters tonight, and find it amusing that people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy; as public speaking fear ranks well above death fear.

  3. Gil

    Thanks, Frank, for your suggestions. I think it’s starting to work now. I can write more than I ever did before. Now, I just have to think about talking less in public. Hey, is there something you can do or suggest for my my friend here?

  4. What can I do for our friend here?

    I wish I could. I’ve tried to explain that he shouldn’t be embarrassed because he’s not alone. Even Obama has struggled with his filler words. I have sent him this link http://www.ummlike.com but to no avail.

    Two points. 1. As I mentioned earlier, we can minimize our own filler words by evaluating others. 2. A command of the spoken language is essential, particularly in today’s world. How much better would our friend be perceived if he was able to communicate as well as Ronald Reagan?

  5. amazing post! i share the sentiment that the usual “public speaking tips” are useless without first having confronted the fear of speaking. i love the bit about visualizations and affirmations: i myself do a little trick. You know how people think that picturing your audience naked will calm you down? Not for me. I imagine my audience in so many layers of clothes that they look extremely fat, and when i do this, i can hardly contain a laugh or smile, which makes the presentation a lot easier to kick off. once again, great post. keep it up tina!

  6. Hi Tina,

    This is another great article. I especially like your point of changing your focus to “adding value” and not trying to make it about ourselves and how we look, act and speak.

    Keep ‘em coming.

  7. I like 2 of your points – Fake it til you make it, followed by Authenticity. Both are good points, even though they seem contradictory!!!

    Another way to control your nerves is to simply remember to breathe long slow breaths. This will reduce your nerves heaps!

    Cheers

    Darren Fleming
    Australias Public SPeaking Coach

  8. Darren’s response reminded me that many presenters who are a bit nervous will rush through their talks. By taking long and slow breathes, the speaker will become more deliberate and slooooowwwww his/her speech.

    Rushing through a speech, IMHO, will enhance the fear. By slowing down and being more deliberate (and breathing long and slow), the speaker will be more relaxed and, in addition, the audience will be more relaxed.

    Gale, as for picturing the audience with no clothes, there was a speaker who was a substitute for another speaker. He was to speak at a naturalist event so the speaker thought he was quickly preparing to talk to group involved with animal rights, etc. He was rushing up to the stage as he was being introduced, turned around and was totally dumbfounded — and speechless. He was facing an audience that was nude. It was not animal nature camp, but a nudist camp.

    I suggest to picture the audience as totally immersed in your message and waiting to hear more and more. Finally, picture them as giving you standing ovation.

    Ciao,

    Frank (Francesco) S. Adamo

  9. Jim Richter

    Getting in touch with your fears and feelings or going through some series of steps is totally unnecessary. Every public speaking course, book, blog and seminar I have seen, works on addressing your fear or building your confidence; you don’t actually need any such approach. Psyching yourself out is just another piece of cheap advice. There is an E-book called “Public Speaking in Comfort” that FIXES the problem of public speaking fear and anxiety. People won’t believe that the method works without a demonstration but luckily, the book comes with a 2 week, money-back guarantee. I tried it and it absolutely works! We can all do a eulogy now, instead of preferring to be in the casket.

  10. Great article, Tina!

    I’m very much touched by the first point, it’s very true that put the focus towards our audience instead of putting our focus towards ourselves.

    Another points is the mentor thing, imitating is a really great way to success as well. David Rogers at Confident1.com that we can even use envy to improve ourselves, turn the envy into admiration and imitating them for our success.

    Will need to practice public speaking.
    Thanks for so many insights…
    Robert

  11. Thanks for sharing all of these great tips. I ask God to give me the right words to get my point across when I do public speaking.

  12. I tend to disagree with (or at least clarify) Robert’s statement that “Another points is the mentor thing, imitating is a really great way to success as well.” Of course, being mentored is a fine tool to learn public speaking skills — but not to imitate anyone.

    Certainly, we can learn from the great speakers, but we should never imitate them. We are unique individual experiences with unique backgrounds. Even identical twins will experience life differently. If we attempt to imitate someone, we tend to perform in front of an audience. Tina mentioned Richard Greene and his 5 secrets. One of his secrets is the continuum from performing to presenting to conversation.

    More than anything else, the ultimate goal is to converse with the audience; therefore, you need to be yourself. Learn from others and see how you can adapt the qualities to help improve your own style of speaking, but never imitate another.

  13. These are all great suggestions, Tina. As it happens, I’m a member and supporter of Toastmaster’s International. This organisation offers clubs around the world where anyone can learn to undertake or brush up on public speaking skills. Its a warm, encouraging environment to build confidence. I offer some public speaking tips on my blog too.

  14. jd

    Tina – I think the most important tip is to talk about what you know and have passion about. Otherwise, the other tips won’t really help. Passion shows through and if you talk about what you know, then you can share your stories and insights, which are the key to the value of the talk.

  15. JQK

    Hi Tina-

    Excellent post. Great tips!

    Public Speaking use to be terrifying to me. However, I , like you, ‘took the bull by the horns’ and confronted my fear.

    I joined Toastmasters and after forcing myself through a couple of speeches (I won the best speaker award on the second one) I actually began to look forward to my next speech. I guess I’m a ‘Ham’ at heart.

    I have an unrelated question. I tried to find a contact form, but it looks like you don’t have one.

    My question is: Didn’t you post an article on the use of Flicker Photos for blog posts? If so, what happened to it? I’m running a WordPress blog and just getting into Flicker. I have some unresolved (by Flicker Help) questions regarding loading a photo into a post.

    Since you’re obviously proficient at using Flicker, can you suggest a resource for me to learn more about using Flicker photos in posts.

    A Google search hasn’t helped much.

    Sorry for the unorthodox nature of my ‘comment.’
    I’m going to feel awful foolish if you DO have a contact form…somewhere.

    I think you’re doing a terrific job with your blog…JQK

  16. These are amazing tips and all of them work very well. I guess the one thing about public speaking is that if you keep on with the thought that you won’t die if you do talk in front of so many people then things sort out :) I am a radio host and talking in front of thousands of people is an everyday thing but I do remember the first few days.. brrr :D

  17. Sea

    Thanks Tina! At first I thought you were going to tell me to imagine the audience naked, but that’s just scary :)

    I totally understand what you mean about focussing on creating value. I find that helps a lot. It’s actually similar to what I learned in counselling – is that you focus on just being there for the person, instead of on what you’re trying to say. Put on your counselling hat!

  18. Thanks for the article. Speaking is definitely a part of success. Most all successful people who make money can do public speaking.

  19. These are very helpful pointers. As a public speaking trainer I’d like to add one more – and it’s a much deeper take on the standard tip about eye contact.

    It taps into the research done into the Social Nervous System and by Dr Stephen Porges.

    Dr Porges’ research found that it is deeply soothing for human beings to feel connected to each other. Simply by allowing your eyes to gently meet the eyes of the people you’re speaking to (and here’s one of the keys – for long enough for you to feel a real connection) your SNS will be switched on and the body’s self-soothing response will be activated. This is particularly helpful when speaking in public.

    Lee Glickstein has developed this into a method that he calls Speaking Circles – see his book Be Heard Now (available cheaply on Amazon).

    If anyone is interested in taking this method further I offer training in London (www.stepfowardandspeak.co.uk) and there are other facilitators in various other parts of the world – see http://www.speakingcircles.com

  20. Devaki Suta das

    I am pretty sure that it will help me in my presentations in the future.Thank you.

  21. Fantastic Post. I really needed to read something like this to push me to face my fears. I am a college student and as you know making speeches is almost a priority when your in college. I had a bad experience during a presentation when my professor decided to turn off the projector in the middle of my speech because I was looking at the screen to much. I was traumatized. After that day my fear of public speaking grew bigger and bigger until I completely switched schools because of it. I have a speech to give tomorrow and I’ve been trying to get around it, but I’ve decided to face my fears and try and give it. This post mainly is for John Rocheleau. I took your post to heart. I am joining toastmasters and facing my fears because of you. I just wanted to thank you for helping me realize that life is more meaningful than living within my fears. I have a voice and I’m not afraid anymore.

    Thank you again,
    Kristin

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