12 Ways To Get Rid Of Public Speaking Anxiety
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Sonya Bruner
Mark Twain once said, "There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars." According to The Washington Post, public speaking is the number one phobia in America today. It may surprise you to know that many celebrities are as fearful of public speaking as an everyday Joe. Warren Buffett was so "terrified" of speaking in front of a group of fellow students in college that he would avoid classes so that he didn't have to. And Warren Buffett isn't the only famous person who suffered from public speaking anxiety: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Harrison Ford are just a few of the others.
So, if you do suffer from public speaking anxiety, take comfort in knowing that you're not alone and that you're in good company. Also, rest in the fact that you can overcome your public speaking anxiety just as Warren Buffett and thousands of others have.
Fear Of Public Speaking
Before we discuss ways to overcome public speaking anxiety, we need to understand why we're so terrified in the first place.
For the most part, we're fearful of being judged by our fellow human beings. It's possible that this fear goes back to the very beginnings of the human species when, if your social group did not accept you, you were banished to face the dangers of the wild on your own, and were unlikely to survive for very long. When we stand on a stage in front of an audience, no matter how big or small, we're fearful that the scrutiny of the audience will expose our faults and weaknesses and that we will not be accepted. We feel naked and vulnerable.
Ways To Getting Rid Of Public Speaking Anxiety
So if you get ready to speak and find your stomach is in a knot or notice your palms are sweaty and your mouth dry, here are 12 things that you can do to overcome public speaking anxiety.
# 1 Don't Expect Perfection
Nobody is perfect. No one can give a 100% perfect speech or presentation, not even the most admired public speakers like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Instead of setting yourself up for failure by expecting yourself to be perfect, rather reduce your public speaking anxiety by being the best that you can be.
#2 Don't Try To Be Someone Else
Steve Jobs used lots of slides and always wore a black turtleneck and blue jeans. Yes, he was a compelling speaker, but you may be more successful if you tell personal stories and wear a suit. Watch and learn from the best public speakers but don't try and be them. You have your style and message and trying to be someone else will only increase your public speaking anxiety.
#3 Imagine The Worst Thing That Might Happen
What is the worst thing that can happen? Everything goes wrong and you burst into tears, or you get booed off the stage, or a multitude of other embarrassing things? The chances are that you've been embarrassed before and you will be again; this is not the end of the world. Public speaking does not define who you are; it's just a small part of you learning something new.
When you feel anxious about embarrassing yourself, think about Neill Armstrong, the first man who set foot on the moon. He fluffed his lines in front of the entire world, and he's still a hero. He was so embarrassed that he denied it for years before finally accepting that he did indeed mess up. But he was the first man on the moon and making a public speaking mistake didn't define who he was. It definitely wasn't the worst thing that could happen.
#4 Remember Why You're Doing It
You're not standing on a stage in front of an audience to terrify yourself. You're not there to impress or be loved. No, you have information or a message you want to share; your sole purpose is to teach, inform and help; nothing else. The less you worry about yourself and what others are thinking of you, and the more passionate you are about your subject, the more likely you are to carry the audience along with you.
#5 Prepare, Prepare
Prepare your speech or presentation thoroughly. Write down what you'll say and edit and proofread it over and over again until you're satisfied. Make a list of everything you'll need on the day and make sure that electronic equipment like your laptop, projector or interactive whiteboard is available on the day and that everything is in good working order. If you're not handy with setting up electronic equipment, get an expert to help you on the day. Your anxiety levels will rise to the roof if something isn't working and you only find out about it 10 minutes before you have to deliver your presentation or speech.
Another Mark Twain quote: "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."
#6 Practice (and then practice some more)
Gary Player, one of the world's champion golfers, said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get." The more you practice your speech or presentation, the more confident you will feel, and the more confident you feel, the less public speaking anxiety you will have.
Practice in front of family and friends; reassure them that honest feedback is what you need and want, and not flattery and platitudes. Make the changes they've suggested if you agree with them, and practice in front of them again.
Ask one of your family members to video record you on your phone or tablet so you can study yourself honestly and objectively. Are you using distracting hand gestures or speaking too quickly or slowly? Make the changes and then video record yourself again.
When you feel perfectly satisfied, practice again. And then practice another three times.
#7 Make The Audience More Human And Less Intimidating
When you're suffering from public speaking anxiety, someone is sure to tell you to imagine your audience naked so that you don't feel intimidated by them, and if this works for you, then great. Another way to make your audience more human and less intimidating is to arrive at the venue early and meet some of them. Mingling and making small talk with your audience, and getting to know a few of them, will relax you and reduce your public speaking anxiety.
#8 Start With A Bang, Not A Whimper
It will take you longer to gain your confidence if you start your presentation or speech in a soft voice and small gestures. The first words out of your mouth should be loud and clear. Don't worry about being too loud; at the very least you will get the attention of your audience. The stronger your start, the quicker your public speaking anxiety will fade away.
#9 Don't Be Put Off By A Yawn Or A Frown
There are sure to be a few people in the audience who will yawn and fidget. Maybe they had a late night, or aren't feeling well; don't focus on them.
If you glance at your audience and see some frowns, don't assume that they're displeased; it may be the exact opposite. They may be concentrating on what you're saying, and that is their natural expression of deep thought.
If you can handle criticism, ask one or two audience members after you've finished your speech or presentation what they enjoyed about it and what they think you could do better.
#10 What To Do About Stumbling And Bumbling
We already know we're not perfect so we can expect some stumbles and bumbles. The bumbles and stumbles themselves aren't important; it's how we handle them. We can either fall apart at the first little mistake or carry on gracefully. Carrying on smoothly and shrugging off the stumbles, even laughing at ourselves, is less embarrassing than walking off the stage in tears at the first sign of a mishap.
It's over, and you survived; the world didn't end, and your dog still loves you. It's time for some reflection: write down ten positive things that you did, and ten things that you can do better next time. Don't dwell on the mistakes. Ask yourself if it was as terrifying as you thought it would be, and if you will have less public speaking anxiety next time.
#12 Seek Help
If your public speaking anxiety is so intense that you feel that you absolutely cannot do it, you may be suffering from a more general anxiety that may need therapy. This is especially true if you find that even speaking to a few close friends at an informal gathering causes you to feel anxious and fearful.
Another solution to overcoming public speaking anxiety is to enroll in a public speaking class or to join a club like Toastmasters, where you will get the support and advice you need to become an effective public speaker.
The more public speaking some people do, the less anxious they become; others never lose their public speaking anxiety but have learned to use it to energize their presentation. Either way, one thing is sure: the more public speaking you do, the better you'll be at it.