10 Tips to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety
Ask just about any professional from any field or industry, and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: Public speaking is stressful.
Whether you’re a teacher, a musician, or even a professional public speaker, you’re bound to have felt those involuntary shakes, butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, or dry mouth that follows you up to the podium when it comes time to speak. And depending on who you are, that anxiety can manifest in a symptom or two, or as full-blown glossophobia — a specific anxiety disorder involving an excessive, unrelenting fear of public speaking.
Public speaking anxiety is totally natural. But it can make career development and progression very difficult, often preventing smart and driven individuals from sharing their knowledge purely out of fear.
Here, we’ll cover 10 tips you can use to help reduce your public speaking anxiety and get more comfortable sharing your wisdom (and personality!) with the world.
1. Get to know your audience
There’s a big difference between talking with your friend on the phone and talking with a total stranger — even if, in both cases, everyone’s goals are aligned (think: phone interview for a new job).
The same is true with public speaking. Talking to a room full of strangers can send you spiraling as you try to land on the idea or ideas that connect. But, just like in one-on-one interactions, if you know who you’re talking to, you can tailor your presentation in a way that ensures your words resonate with and engage your audience at large.
Before you even sit down to craft your speech, learn as much as you can about the composition of your audience. By taking this step, you can reduce the anxiety that comes with uncertainty and make informed decisions about the best language to use, common pain points, beneficial takeaways, and more.
2. Write it out to organize your ideas
Having an outline and organized flow for your speech can help you gain confidence in your public speaking success, effectively reducing anxiety in the days leading up to your talk.
So, once you have a good feel for your audience, start crafting your speech. Start by creating a basic shape and structure that includes your topic, central idea, main supporting points and ideas, and takeaways. As you write, remember that you want to strike a balance between teaching your audience and engaging with them to ensure your messages are heard and that they resonate.
3. Hook your audience early, and end strong
The best speeches go beyond the immediate or expected subject matter in tactful ways that showcase the speaker’s personality and connect them with their audience on a human level. Take a few key opportunities during your speech to incorporate personal touches, including in your introductory remarks. Don’t be afraid to use humor, inspirational stories, or appropriate anecdotes from your own life — often, these additions can help keep an audience engaged.
Then, when the time comes, wrap things up with a powerful ending, instead of just stopping when you run out of material.
4. Practice presenting without reading from your notes
Practice is a powerful way to reduce public speaking anxiety. Take a few opportunities to walk through your speech aloud or in front of a partner for feedback. Practice presenting as you will in real life: For example, if you’ll be giving your talk at a podium, practice standing up as you speak. If you’ll be leading the room from a chair, as with a reading or arts-based craft talk, practice sitting up with good posture and projecting your voice.
Whatever you do, be sure that you’re able to present without reading your notes verbatim. This may take some time, but it’s critical: When you know your speech inside and out, you have even less reason to doubt your abilities. Plus, when you present, you won’t want to be reading off a sheet of paper anyway. You’ll need to be off-book (with the opportunity to glance at your notes from time to time) come the big day.
5. Record (and watch) yourself presenting to observe and hone your presentation
As the next phase in your presentation prep, try recording yourself and seeing how your performance looks to the outside eye. Having the opportunity to adjust your gestures and reduce nervous ticks can help you ensure that you portray the confidence you seek as you present. Give yourself ample opportunities to reflect and improve between recordings.
On the morning of your presentation, if you can, take a moment to do a slightly harder than usual aerobic workout, pending that you’ve discussed exercising with your doctor first. Doing this kind of exercise with a good deal of intensity for approximately 20 minutes or more can help reduce anxiety and other difficult emotions. That said, if you don’t have 20 minutes, it’s okay to do something shorter (like running very fast in place, or doing sets of jumping jacks).
Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to shower and dry off before it’s time to speak!
7. Dress for self-esteem
There is a lot of advice out there about the best ways to dress for particular situations. You’ve probably heard expressions such as, “Dress for the job you want,” that speak to the impact of a confident image both on oneself and on others.
In some ways, this is also true when you’re dealing with public speaking anxiety. Generally, you’ll want to wear an outfit that either matches, or is slightly more formal than, your audience. This will help your appearance match your expertise and help command respect.
However, it’s important to remember that looks are only part of the picture when it comes to confidence. Don’t just aim for a formal outfit that’s uncomfortable to spend a few hours standing or networking in. Choose something in a color that makes you feel powerful but that feels comfortable to wear. Avoid clothing that is too tight or too short, hairstyles that will require constant maintenance, and shoes that bother your feet. The combination of confidence in your appearance and comfort in what you wear will help you take your mind entirely off how you look so you can take on your speech undeterred.
8. Arrive early
If you can, try to familiarize yourself with the room you’ll be speaking in before it’s actually time to present. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to go in a day or so before a presentation for a sound check. If not, see if you can arrive before the event is scheduled to start. Position yourself just how you’ll be positioned during the real speech. Look around and get comfortable with the view. Try speaking a few words to see how it feels and sounds to you. Getting comfortable with the room or venue can go far in reducing public speaking anxiety and helping you paint an accurate picture of how the day could go.
If you’ll be presenting virtually, take time to test out your presentation technology. Be sure you are comfortable setting up and that you have an appropriate background that’s free from possible distractions.
9. Make eye contact with your audience
You’ve probably been instructed to make eye contact by teachers, professors, or other coaches in your life. This is especially helpful for anxiety not only because it helps you picture the audience as less of a faceless crowd and more of a collection of interested people, but also because you can begin to see individuals’ reactions to what you say. Look for smiles, nods, and other signs of engagement as you do this.
10. Breathe and hydrate
Throughout the presentation, you’ll want to remind yourself to take deep, whole breaths. Many of us resort to shallow breathing when we are anxious, which can further exacerbate the emotion. Deep breathing can help ground you in the moment and give you more control over yourself.
At the same time, you’ll want to hydrate. Of course, this is something you’ll want to do in the weeks leading up to the speech if possible — but on the day of, be sure to bring a glass or bottle of water with you. Remember: Anxiety can make your mouth bone dry, and that discomfort can have a negative impact on your emotional state. Plus, taking brief water breaks can give you a moment to collect your thoughts if you feel like you’re off track in your speech.
Even the most advanced professionals struggle with public speaking anxiety. But by following these tips, you may be able to gain confidence and prove to yourself that you’re not only capable of public speaking; you’re great at it. Give it a shot! Before you know it, you’ll be breaking a leg — not breaking a sweat — with finesse.