The Real Source of Public Speaking Anxiety

Public speaking anxiety is by far the greatest issue we are asked to help professionals with every week at Mindful Presenter.

I often hear professional speakers and coaches claim that the reason they believe that people suffer from public speaking anxiety is because they have low self-esteem.

Whilst that may be true for some, I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to generalise; especially when in my experience it’s rarely the case.

It’s my belief that the truth is far simpler. It relates to a very basic and primitive human trait we each have evolved to experience:

The need to look good

That’s it I’m afraid, it’s as simple as that.

If you are affected by public speaking anxiety you don’t need to rush off to see a psychologist. You just need to recognize and accept that we all have an innate need to look good; some more than others of course.

We all have the same core human needs. It’s the one we choose to focus on in any given moment that will affect the way we think, feel and perform.

When it comes to public speaking I believe that we all have three basic needs which are enough to make anyone nervous:

Certainty — knowing that we are going to be fine and that nothing bad is going to happen to us.

Reputation — the need to protect and even enhance our personal standing and reputation.

Connection — we all need to ‘belong’. Connecting is our way of feeling that.

We could try to complicate matters and dress these up as self- esteem issues but I really don’t believe it’s appropriate.

It’s not unusual for many presenters to feel some level of public speaking anxiety before presenting, including yours truly.

Knowing how to manage your nerves is of course the key to public speaking success.

We are all hardwired to care about our reputation and to look good

When presenting to a group of people we are trying to influence its natural for our reputation and character to feel at risk.

The fact is, people judge people and we all instinctively know that.

I’ve never yet met a speaker who doesn’t want to look good or doesn’t care about his or her presentation. It’s often the fact that we care so much that our public speaking anxiety is elevated.

I was at a friends wedding recently and had an interesting conversation with the groom who I hadn’t met before. After the speeches he confided in me that he was excruciatingly nervous about making his speech. He expressed his concern that he thought he’d never get through it.

Despite him feeling so anxious,he gave one of the best, funniest and most touching speeches I have had the pleasure of hearing. The moment he finished speaking his guests took to their feet to give a thunderous applause.

Was he suffering from low self-esteem? — NO

Did he want to look good on his wedding day in front of his wife and everyone he cares about? — OF COURSE

Was it fine for him to feel anxious about speaking on his big day? — YOU BET

Was there a lot at stake in his eyes? — NATURALLY

When we speak in front of a group of people (whether we know them or not), the reason most of us get nervous is because we care.

It’s not necessarily because we were ridiculed in the classroom when we were 6 years old.

Life presents its own challenges for many of us:

– Some of us have serious challenges in controlling our weight.

– Some of us are terrified of spiders.

– Some of have a fear of flying.

– Some of us worry that our suitcase will be the last one off the baggage reclaim carousel.

– Some of us suffer from public speaking anxiety.

Good news

Just as you can learn to control your weight, love flying and make friends with spiders you can learn to dramatically reduce your public speaking anxiety. With help, you too can learn to and speak with confidence, passion and purpose.

The best to start in lookingf for help is to:

– Book yourself on a powerful public speaking course.

– Get yourself some presentation training.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Look for a specialist public speaking anxiety course.

You don’t need therapy but you may benefit from the guidance of a Mindful Presenter

If you’re not ready for presentation training or public speaking coaching, consider the following tips you can use today:

– Remember, some anxiety is normal

– Imagine yourself succeeding

– Don’t try to be perfect

– Focus on how you can help your audience

– Practice but don’t memorize — do it out loud; not in your head

– Know your message

– Get to know your audience

– Know the room — get there early

Reframe the feelings of anxiety as excitement

– Practice mindfulness


– Work on your breathing

– Remember that your audience wants you to succeed

– Smile

– Listen to calming or inspirational music

– Don’t try to be someone else

– Craft a strong opening

– Create content that works for your audience, not yourself

– Remember why you are there; it’s not to impress, it’s to help

– Look your best

– Watch your posture

– Think about how good you will feel and how well you’ll sleep when it’s done

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and public speaking coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.

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Maurice DeCastro

Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.