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Overcoming Nerves While Speaking Publically


by Natalie Gallagher

Public speaking continues to be one of the biggest fears many people have, and it’s largely because of the incredible anxiety that comes with standing in front of a crowd, with all eyes and ears focusing on you. “What if” questions roil around in our brains: What if I say something dumb? What if I look bad? What if, what if, what if???

After twenty-one years of being a public speaker, including in front of audiences large and small, I’m here to tell you that the nerves never fully go away. But there are a few things that you can do to not only minimize the fear, but to make the fear work in your favor.

  1. Channel the anxiety into preparation and practice. The more you practice, the less likely it is that you will make a serious flub during the presentation. For example, TED speakers practice an average of three hours a week, for a full three months before their presentation! By the time they get on stage, they have their speech memorized inside-out. If they get nervous, the odds of forgetting their speech are drastically reduced because of the practice time they’d invested. Practicing as much as possible helps not only with remembering your presentation, but it helps you to feel familiar and comfortable with presenting in the first place, which in turn helps to minimize nervousness.
  2. Know that the audience wants you to win. No one wants to watch a bad presentation; we want to get value out of being in the audience. And for the most part human beings are kind and decent and like for others to succeed. Which means there is a 99% chance that your audience is rooting for you to do well! Whenever I’m feeling anxious on stage, I look out at the faces and remember that they’re here to hear me speak, and they want me to do well because they get value out of the speech in return. Assume that all of the faces in the audience are friendly, and relax knowing that they are wishing you the best.
  3. Breathe deeply and breathe often. I’ve discussed the importance of breathing deeply while speaking publically before, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is. Your brain cannot function without oxygen, and we tend to stop breathing enough when we get nervous. But this will only exacerbate your anxiety and increase the possibility of making mistakes while on stage. It’s a vicious cycle that can be interrupted by taking deep breaths before, during, and after your speech. If nerves cause you to stumble while speaking, stop, take a deep breath, and then resume.

There is no magic bullet for overcoming nerves and anxiety while speaking publically. Even the most seasoned and experienced speakers still get nervous. But it’s how you channel the nerves that makes all the difference.

Natalie Gallagher is a skilled storyteller who works closely with clients to help them express their unique personalities through written and spoken content. Contact Natalie through email at ngallagher @ sociallinus.com.