Public speaking anxiety afflicts most everyone.
Mark Twain said, “There are two types of speakers: those who are
nervous and those who are liars.”
If you’re dreading an upcoming speech, you are in good company. Nicole
Kidman, Hugh Grant, Elvis Presley, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy,
Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Walters, Johnny Carson and even Aristotle all
suffered some measure of public communication apprehension.
We can take solace that many talented and important people have felt
nervous before or while performing. If they can achieve so much despite
battling butterflies, then there must be hope for all of us.
It’s impossible to eliminate public speaking anxiety, but here are 20
things you can do to keep calm:
1. Enlighten your audience; don’t just inform them.
Anyone can read words off a script. Your job is to simplify your subject
matter and convey it in a compelling manner. You’ll be far less nervous if
you focus on turning information into something your audience can relate to
2. Speak to your audience before you meet them.
Make your speech about your audience, not about you. Learn as much as you
can about your audience, and prepare with them in mind.
If possible, ask attendees beforehand how you can help them in your
presentation; find out how much they already know and what they would like
to know. Do your best to gain insight into how your presentation might
benefit the people you’re addressing.
3. Practice makes perfect.
Rehearsing only on the morning before you speak isn’t good enough. Set
aside as much time as you can to practice your presentation. Don’t just
rehearse in front of your dog; find someone you trust who will give you
Practice your content, your spoken delivery and your physical delivery.
[EVENT: Corporate Communicators Conference]
. Get acquainted with the room.
Always get to the venue at least an hour early to make sure everything
works, and then take as much time as you can to get comfortable with your
surroundings. Spend 10 minutes standing where you’ll be speaking. Take
account of potential distractions, such as the temperature, the lighting,
creaky floorboards or ambient noise. Immerse yourself in the room before
anyone else arrives.
5. Take a seat.
Once you’ve acclimated yourself, spend a few moments sitting in some of the
audience seats. Note whether any view is obstructed, and identify where you
might direct stragglers to sit if you have to deal with late arrivals.
6. Look sharp
Dress for the occasion; now is not the time for bold fashion
experiments. Find out in advance how your audience is likely to dress for
the event, and attire yourself accordingly.
If you are staying overnight to speak in the morning, take a spare shirt or
blouse just in case breakfast gets the better of you.
7. Get moving.
Exercise before you speak: Take a brisk walk, go to the gym, swim, or take
a yoga class. Exercise allays nerves and replaces dread with healthy
8. Get some sleep.
Go to bed early the night before your presentation. Avoid junk food and
alcohol the night before. Set two wakeup alarms, just in case.
Take time to calm your mind.
Take time to meditate, pray, do yoga, practice self-hypnosis or employ
whatever calming method you prefer before you speak.
10. Nail down your opening.
For many speakers, the first two minutes of a presentation are the most
difficult. Practice your opening to the point that it’s ingrained in you,
giving you a springboard into the meat of your speech.
11. Breathe deeply.
Establish a deep-breathing relaxation practice well before your
presentation. Try doing five rounds of breathing in through your nose to
the count of five, then breathing out through your mouth.
12. Don’t forget to smile.
Your smile helps both you and your audience to relax, telling you and them
that everything will be fine. Smiling is contagious; it also makes you look
friendly, confident and credible.
Connecting is essential.
Practice making eye contact with your audience—even if it makes you
uncomfortable. It’s the best way to connect with people and make sure they
are on board with you.
14. Make the audience feel something.
Rather than dumping information on people, try to establish an emotional
connection with your audience. Shifting your focus onto the audience—and
away from yourself— will make you feel less anxious and improve your
chances of getting through to them.
15. Watch your posture.
The way you stand and position yourself while presenting is important to
both you and your audience. A strong, balanced and relaxed posture will
help you feel confident as you speak. If your body language is slumped,
sluggish and disinterested, your audience will be turned off.
Stand tall and proud as you speak.
16. Ignore your self-criticism.
Stop telling yourself how nervous you are, what a terrible presenter you
are or that you will forget what to say.
Remind yourself that you know your content, that you are prepared and that
you have something of value to share. The audience is on your side. They
don’t need you to be perfect; they just want you to be yourself and connect
17. Anticipate and visualize success.
Picture your audience smiling, looking engaged and thanking you for a great
Imagine your audience nodding in agreement, listening intently to your
Despite what you may have heard, do not try to imagine your
. Be present.
Before you speak, focus entirely on the present. Listen to your favorite
piece of music. Practice saying a tongue twister. Play a game on your
phone. Focus on your breathing. Do something that keeps you in the current
moment and prevents your mind from wandering.
19. Have a clear, concise message.
Don’t read a script. Focus instead on your message and how you will support
it and bring it to life.
Nail down your key points, stories, opening and closing by practicing out
loud. Prepare notes for reference, but don’t hold them in your hand.
Think of your message in the form of a tweet—make it as clear, concise and
compelling as possible. Use your characters wisely.
20. Don’t try to be perfect.
Your audience can’t see what you are feeling. They don’t want to see a
flawless speaker on a platform; they want to hear another human being who
has the courage to connect with them and help them in some way. Relax, be
confident, and be yourself.
Maurice DeCastro is the founder of
Mindful Presenter. A version of this article first appeared on
Business 2 Community.