How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
by: Payman Taei
At one time in my life, like most people, I was terrified of public speaking.
I remember one moment particularly clearly. My classmates were waiting for me
to read a paper I’d written—an experience, I’m sure, many remember from high
school and college. While a part of me was concerned about the views of my
peers—I wouldn’t like to embarrass myself in front of them, after all—I was more
concerned with what my professor would think. He was pretty strict, and I knew
if I’d written something subpar he’d be the first to point it out.
Having dealt with anxiety for most of my life, I recognized the symptoms:
pounding heart, cold sweat, this weird tingling down my arms and wrist, and the
immense desire to run and hide back in my dorm. I think it might’ve been good
the clock was behind me, or I would’ve been checking that constantly, rather
than focusing on my audience.
Happily, however, one of my high school teachers gave me some helpful advice
on overcoming a fear of public speaking—focus above people’s heads, rather than
looking at their eyes. Needless to say, I survived the experience.
Public speaking terrifies a lot of people; in fact, for a long time it topped
the list of personal fears, and is still rather high in the present day. If
you’re scared of speaking in front of crowds, you’re in good company—even people
like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln tried to avoid public speaking for a long time.
If you want to overcome these fears, then there are a lot of options you can
use. Here are some useful tips and tricks that helped me, as well as many
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Feeling like you don’t know your material is a major reason that people are
afraid of public speaking. Naturally, the easiest method to fix this is to
Take the time to create your presentation on PowerPoint, sites like Visme, or
on paper well in advance so you have time to tweak the information. Go over the
work several times and get a feel for how it’ll flow when given to an audience.
Creating questions you think the audience might ask—and then researching the
answers—can help you further prepare. If you’ve researched and studied your
topic well, you’re more likely to feel at ease once you start talking about your
On YouTube, Dr. Ivan Joseph illustrates how this method helped him. He stood in front of
his mirror and practiced his speech to himself first, then to his family and
peers. While he was nervous practicing in front of a crowd, the informal setting
allowed him to hammer out his familiarity with his work in a safer setting. His
nerves were gone by the time he had to speak to much larger crowds, since he’d
already given the speech so many times.
For myself, I found making flashcards to practice from helped. I’d include
small key notes, and then forced myself to try and remember and fill in the
blanks. I kept them with me when it came time to speak, just in case I needed
something to trigger a memory, but I’d already practiced the speech enough that
I hardly used them.
2. Find Something More Powerful Than Fear
Fear can be a terrifying, all-consuming emotion—but so can many others.
Speaking about something you’re passionate about can help drive the fear into a
corner where it’s manageable.
Gandhi's fear was so severe that he
struggled to even get out a few sentences in his younger years. What finally
motivated him to overcome his fears of public speaking was the fact that he
found something greater than himself that he felt he had to advocate—seeing
India as an independent nation.
When you’re passionate about something, you’ve likely got a lot of facts down
already, since you’ve probably done a lot of research on your own. Moreover,
finding a topic you’re passionate about will make you more comfortable speaking
Personally, I’ve found some of my best presentations involve something that I
enjoy talking about. It makes the topic easier to research and present, and I
feel less like I have to prove myself and more like I can focus on what I love.
It helps build confidence in your topic.
Starting with a topic you’re comfortable with can help you prepare to deal
with topics you might not know as well in the future.
3. Think About How You Present
What tricks have you already tried while giving a presentation? What do you
typically do and tell yourself? These are all things to think about, because
they can help make—or break—your mentality while speaking.
David Carbonell has a helpful suggestion: create a list of all the things you
do and tell yourself while in front of a crowd. Take a few minutes just to write
everything down then, at the end, go over what you’ve written.
Carbonell lists some common things people do when they fear speaking to an
audience: avoiding looking at the audience, reminding yourself that it’ll be
over soon, going through the speech as fast as possible, and other similar
methods. However, these methods can actually make you more anxious—talking
faster, for example, makes your breathing stilted, which resembles a fear
Carbonell’s suggestion? To accept the fact that you’re afraid, and face it
Warren Buffett proves how successful this method can be. Buffett avoided
anything to do with public speaking as much as possible—including a course on
the subject, which he attempted to take but dropped out of. Eventually, however,
he realized the only way to beat his fear was to face it, and enrolled in a
course with similarly-scared people.
Brian Scudamore shares similar sentiments, saying, “What’s helpful is
acknowledging that we get nervous because we care deeply about the audience and
Easier said than done. So what’s something you can do before the speech to
prepare a little? Go back to the list. Create a new one of all the things you
fear will happen during the speech, and then rationalize—why would someone say
this? Is this really true? Encourage positive thoughts about yourself and your
work, and think in calming terms: “It’s just a speech. It’s not a big deal. I’ve
4. Relaxation Exercises
Of course, if you’re a generally anxious person, it helps to find a way to
actively relax and calm your nerves.
Brian Tracy has a particularly interesting method in the form of meditation.
He notes that meditating for five minutes a day can help release stress and
clear your mind.
A common trick is to take deep breaths. Doing this before giving a speech can
help ground you; much like how rapid, sporadic breathing increases a fear
response, a deep breath can simulate being in a relaxed situation. It can also
help you take a step back from the moment and consider any fears with a more
This can even help when actually giving a presentation. If you notice
yourself speaking too quickly, you can pause and take a few deep breaths, then
resume at a calmer pace. Pausing for one deep breath whenever you notice a fear
response can help get you through a difficult patch and, once you know you can
do it, it gives you the confidence that you can do it again, helping to allay
some of the fears.
5. Be Yourself
Related to finding a topic you’re passionate about, probably the subject you
understand best is, well, yourself. Speaking on personal experiences and your
own feelings means there’s less research, and less chance that you’ll stumble
and forget something.
Brian Scudamore talks about this in his article, as well, where he explains
that one of his greatest speeches was given not on company practice, but on life
lessons he’d learned from very personal experiences. He explains that this
allowed him to connect to his audience better, something they recognized.
Being honest and simply speaking about your own experiences and beliefs can
be terrifying, but also freeing. You don’t have to make anything up; you just
say what you know. It can also give your presentations the most power.
Joel Osteen knows something of these struggles. When his father died, he was
encouraged by his family to take the stage and preach. People often compared him
to his father, bolstering his insecurities.
Osteen’s solution was, as mentioned above, to think about himself
differently—not as someone “not as good” as his father, but as himself, and to
find positive qualities about himself.
Relatedly, it can help to not focus so much on the audience and what they
think. This is your presentation; the topic and your own experiences with it are
what’s important, not what the audience thinks. Focus on your research and your
feelings, and speak about them, blocking what the audience might think from your
What are Your Solutions?
There are, of course, other methods you can use to overcome your fears. These
are just a start. Experiment with these, or even new methods, and find out what
works best for you.
Payman Taei is an avid technologist and the Founder of
Visme, a Do It Yourself platform allowing everyone to easily create, manage
professional presentations & infographics right in their browser. He’s also the
Founder of HindSite Interactive an award
winning web design and web development company.
Published here on: 18-Dec-16