The secret to overcoming nervous speaking and presenting

If you feel nervous speaking in public or presenting at work you’ll know it can be very unpleasant. Many of the symptoms of nervous speaking and presenting are very similar to other life experiences. Approaching a member of the opposite sex to ask them out on a date, going for a job interview and taking your driving test can feel just like nervous speaking.

The shortness of breath, sweaty palms, dry mouth, queasy stomach and wobbly legs are just a handful of physical symptoms that can affect our performance.

If you feel nervous speaking or presenting at work or in public, you may worry for weeks or even months in advance.

Whether its preparing to ask your boss for a raise or a business presentation that makes you anxious, it’s important to remember that it’s our thoughts that dictate the way we feel.

We become what we think about and so does our presentation

Your partner is late home from work. You knew they were going for a quick celebratory birthday drink with a colleague at work but now it’s getting really late. You are worried and anxious, because you fear the worst. They have been attacked on the way home from the station, had too much to drink and stepped out into the middle of the road. Your anxiety becomes heightened even further by your thoughts that perhaps the reason for their absence is an affair. Your mind has made a quantum leap from a frenzied attack to a sordid affair, how did that happen?

The more you play those thoughts in your head, the more vivid you make the image and the more real the movie becomes. Now you’re upset and its completely unfounded. The truth is, the only reason they are late is because they stopped for something to eat on the way home and their battery was dead on their mobile phone so couldn’t call.

As strange as it may sound, nervous speaking can be a little like that. What movie do you play over and over again in your mind when it’s time to give an important presentation? Could it be that movie that causes your mouth to turn dry, butterflies to dance the tango in your stomach and that feeling of panic and dread?

If you suffer from any of these symptoms then your anxiety is related to your thinking.

The racing heartbeat and feeling of nausea are likely to do with the perceived world you have created in your own mind; and its completely normal.

It’s likely that your thoughts are related to some of the following:

I’ll make a fool of myself

They won’t like me

I’ll forget my words

What if they ask me a question I dont know the answer to?

They’ll think I’m boring

The feelings associated with nervous speaking don’t go away just because you command them to. Imagine telling someone who has a terrifying fear of flying to pull themselves together at 40,000 feet,whilst being pelted around in their seat by turbulence. It’s futile!

Here are some highly effective ideas to help you to manage the symptoms of nervous speaking and turn them into your ally rather than your persecutor.

Be prepared — Practice, practice, and practice some more. I don’t mean memorize, memorize and memorize.

I mean, get to know your material; internalize your message. Rehearse in front of the mirror, friends, family or even next doors dog; just know your stuff. The more mindfully prepared you are, the less anxious you will feel.

Imagine turning up for your presentation to find that you left all of your notes on the train or that your laptop had stopped working.

The thought alone is the epitome of nervous speaking; I know.

That’s why you need to own your message.

In the unlikely event of that happening you should still be able to speak because you know your message. You may not have all the data but you can still give a good account of why you called your audience together in the first place.

Once you have absolute clarity of your message, spend some time practicing:

– The verbal expression of your message; how you sound

– The non-verbal expression of your message; how you look.

Arrive early — Give yourself plenty of time to calm down and connect with yourself before you speak.

Become familar with:

The building

The room

The environment — temperature, sounds, lighting, space

The facilities and resources

Your support network

Your audience

Breathe — Allow yourself the time and space to improve the flow of oxygen to your brain to help you think more clearly.

Don’t be in a rush to speak. The real secret to nervous speaking is learning to connect with yourself first and just be present in the room.

The fastest, simplest and most reliable path to presence is to take the time to breathe.

It’s impossible to hold more than one thought at a time so if your thought is focused on your breath, you will instantly begin to feel more calm and relaxed.

Don’t wait untill the day of your presentation to practice. Make it a daily practice long before you turn up to present. There are a number of very helpful mobile applications that can help you. Two of my personal favourites are Calm and Headspace.

The following video explains exactly ‘Why Breathwork Matters’:

Don’t be selfish — Stop focusing on yourself for a moment and think about your audience.

Think about what they need and how you can help them instead. Don’t focus on whether your audience can hear you stuttering or can see the red blotches on your neck, think about how you can give them what they need.

– How much do they already know and care about this topic?

– What else do they want and need to know?

– Why should they care about what I have to say?

– How will what I have to say make their lives better, easier, happier or positively different in some way?

– What part of my message may they resist and how can I address them?

– What do they have to gain by listening to me?

– What questions will they have for me and how can I answer them?

Play to your strengths — If you have a gift for telling stories then use it.

Perhaps storytelling isn’t your strength, it may be:

– Making eye contact

– Making people laugh

– Your strong voice

– Your passion

– Your empathy

– Interacting with the audience

The point is, one of the reasons for nervous speaking is focusing too much on your weaknesses.

Find your strength and play to it, just make sure you don’t overdo it!

Be a number — Imagine confidence on a scale of one to ten, with one representing the lowest level of confidence and ten the highest.

Practice holding a high number of your choosing in your mind. Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and then ask yourself what that number/level of confidence looks, sounds and feels like in your personal world. Don’t think about how it looks in or is percieved by others; think about what it means to you personally.

Once you have an image in your mind and feeling in your body practice being that number/ level of confidence over and over again.

Read a few passages from your favourit book or even the newspaper; owning that level of confidence. In other words, how would you stand, how would you look, how would you speak and how would you move. Watch the brilliant Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, ‘Your body language may shape who you are’.

Choose to be that number moments before you stand to present. Before you utter a word, take a moment to stand, pause, take a breath and choose a number, a level of confidence that you would like to project. Then step into that number and be that number.

An eight will serve most people well. Even though we are not actors we all subconsciously know how to be an eight; we just have to hold that number and image in our mind as a level of confidence. This isn’t about acting, it’s about ‘being’.

Play a movie you like — Before you present, picture yourself in your mind presenting as you really want to.

Imagine yourself standing there, visualise:

– Yourself speaking fluently and easily

– Your audience smiling and nodding in agreement

– Yourself connecting with the audience and enjoying yourself

– Yourself standing tall, proud and strong as you speak

– Your words flowing naturally and easily

– Your audience applauding when you finish speaking

If that’s too difficult then at least imagine:

– Yourself lying on the beach, the warm sun on your skin and the sound of the ocean

– Doing something you love, a hobbie, pastime or passion

– That incredible moment you passed your driving test or were offered your first job

– That feeling of relief, joy and success after your first kiss

Change your thoughts and you’ll change your emotional state.

Get perspective — Remember, you probably know more about your subject than anyone in your audience, so take comfort in that.

If you don’t, then remember you have been asked to present for a good reason. They could just have easily asked someone else but they chose you.

We all hold some limiting and negative beliefs, no one is exempt. One of the reasons we can feel excessivley nervous speaking is because we have allowed those limiting or negative beliefs to thrive for years without noticing, challenging and reframing them.

– Write down your limiting or negative beliefs

– Instead of looking for evidence as to why you believe them to be true, look for evidence why they are not true

– Write down what you would need to believe to help you to feel less nervous speaking

– Look for evidence elsewhere in life for success, acheivement and confidence; write it down

– Write down a brand new set of beliefs that are far more empowering and helpful

– Practice focusing on those new, positive beliefs

Watch your language — Watch out for negative self- talk.

Replace it with positive and kind self-talk.

Negative self-talk Positive self-talk
I don’t know how to present This is an opportunity to learn something new

Presenting and public speaking is so hard I’ll get some presention training

I’m not a confident presenter Confidence comes with practice

I don’t have time to prepare I will make time to prepare, it’s important

There’s no way I’ll be good at this I will do everything I can to make it work

I’m an introvert, not a public speaker Many great speakers are introverts; they care

No one will listen to me I’m speaking to help my audience

What if I freeze and forget my words I will pause, breathe, smile and carry on

What if they ask me a question I can’t answer I will respond honestly and calmly

Remind yourself how good you really are at your job, how much you know and care and all that you have achieved in the past.

Don’t beat yourself up in your mind; be kind and gentle with yourself, use words of encouragement.

Learn from the best — Model yourself on excellence.

– Watch TED talks ( and videos of some of your favourite presenters.

– Take on board what you admire the most and adapt what you like to suit your personality and style in a way that will work for you.

– Spend time with colleagues you admire as presenters. Watch them, ask the questions, get some feedback.

– Attend workshops, conferencing and seminars in person and online -meet as many presenters as you can

– Book yourself on a powerful public speaking course

– Invest in some good one to one public speaking coaching

– Find a recommended public speaking anxiety course

Move -Try not to stand as though your feet are nailed to the floor.

Movement represents energy and visual stimulation.

Use your energy and own the platform.

Stand tall and straight with your feet shoulders or hip width apart; feel your feet connected to the ground you are standing on.

Move around with purpose, not just for the sake of it.

Let your hands speak.

Let your face speak.

Let your body speak.

The whole stage is yours, practice owning it. If you have a flip chart, be sure to move it to a position that suits you.

If there is a screen then touch the screen.

Move the laptop, tables or chairs wherever you want them to; show them it’s all yours.

Please don’t forget

Dress for confidence. If you look good it’s highly likely you will feel good too.

Smile. Smiling makes you look more attractive, it’s contagious, will make you feel good and make other people feel good too.

Finally, always remember:

“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

You really can have public speaking anxiety and still give a great speech and following these tips will go a long way to helping you. If you need further support then consider getting some public speaking coaching which specialises in Mindful Presenting and will help you to speak with confidence clarity and purpose.

Image: Courtesy of




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

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Maurice DeCastro

Maurice DeCastro

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

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