3 Best Ways to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

Christopher Witt —  February 7, 2014

Fear of public SpeakingWe’re often told that people’s #1 fear is the fear of public speaking.

I don’t put much faith in that statistic, but there’s no denying that public speaking fills many people with dread bordering on panic.

I’ve been there. Once I was so nervous — scared out of my mind — that I froze halfway through my speech, completely forgetting what I was going to say, and bolted from the room.

Since then I’m more or less tamed my fear of speaking.  Although I’ve given thousands of speeches over the years, I still get nervous.

So that’s my beginning premise. Don’t try to banish all fear. Try, instead, to keep it at a manageable level.

Panic is bad. Fear is disabling. A bit of nervous can be a good thing: it’ll keep you on your toes and add some energy to your presentation.

The Three Best Ways to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

#1: Practice

Giving a speech is a skill. It’s a rather complicated skill, when you think about everything that’s involved. And you can’t learn any skill without getting some instruction, practicing it over and over again, and getting some support and feedback. 

Check out How to Prepare a Presentation.

It’s best, of course, to practice speaking before there’s a lot at stake. Practice in front of safe audiences or when there’s little to lose. Speak at a school function or at a club meeting. Join a Toastmasters club. Just do it. And get some advice along the way. Do it again and again and again. 

#2: Prepare

If you give a speech without doing your homework, you should be nervous. It’s your body’s way of saying, “You fool, don’t do this to me again.”

Know your audience. Research your topic. Know what you want to say. Outline your talk. Maybe even write it out. Rehearse it over and over again, out loud, and moving around.

Make the scout’s motto your own: “Be prepared.”

# Breathe

Breathing will do more to calm the physical symptoms of fear — the sweaty palms, the shaking knees and hands, the pounding heart — than just about anything else.

Most people get most nervous in the minute or two right before they go on. Use that time to breathe. Consciously take three slow deep breaths, paying attention to your inhaling and your exhaling.

Believe me, no one will notice. No one will say, “Hey, look at him. He’s breathing!” 

When you find yourself getting nervous at some point during your talk, take another breath.

There are other things you can do to calm your nerves and to overcome the fear of public speaking. (Check out my list at How to Develop Confidence Speaking.)

What works for you?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

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