Girl in a blue shirt on a swing overlooking a steep waterfall.Leadership & Influence

5 Public Speaking Tips To Overcome Fear And Anxiety

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Most of us feel nervous before a big presentation to an audience. Almost as if we are staring down a precipice in fear. The common public speaking tips and advice we encounter is great for telling us what is needed to be an effective speaker. But they rarely show us how to actually do it. We are told to be bold and conquer our fear. Excellent. But how? That end of the deal leaves us short-changed.

But there is good news if you finally want to overcome your fear of public speaking. Here are simple, but life-changing, public speaking tips that will show you how to become a better speaker in a few easy-to-adopt steps.

Public Speaking Tips That Produce Results Are Elusive

The most famous authors and coaches in the field of public speaking are typically people who have a natural flair for the art. That means they don’t know what it’s like to be nervous and anxious before a talk. And they are unable to teach people like us how to overcome fear of public speaking.

If you find yourself held back in your career and afraid to speak before an audience, it’s because the advice you’ve been given comes from people who cannot empathize with our public speaking anxiety. The public speaking tips they dole out are designed for people who are already good speakers. And they help those people become even better. The rest of us stay stuck in the same place, unable to deliver an outstanding talk or presentation.

Finding your way through the maze of public speaking tips is hard. But sometimes the answer to a complicated problem has an easy solution, though. Your fear of public speaking can be overcome by a series of small, but effective, steps. Together we will learn some of the most effective steps to get over the anxiety of speaking before people.

What Causes Fear Of Public Speaking

Man dressed in a grey suit looking down an auditorium filled with an audience listening to a speech.
Photo by supakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The place to start when conquering public speaking fear is to understand where the psychological blocks are in us. There are two sources that drive the anxiety you feel when you speak before a live audience.

The first comes from misconceptions and fears that others have placed on us. Unnecessary expectations and false advice. Like where to keep your hands when speaking. How to make good eye contact with the audience. Or not to use filler sounds like ums and ahs. But focusing on these peripheral issues will actually make it much harder to excel at making presentations. So much of your mental effort is wasted here that you are bound to lose out elsewhere.

The second is our own anxiety that we feel at the thought of speaking in front of others. We are aware of this fear but don’t know the right way to deal with it. The place to address this fear is not in our rational mind, but in our subconscious mind. The part of our brain that thinks fast and instinctively. Here is where all our emotions, like fear and pleasure, exist.

To become a better speaker you have to understand how to tame this primal part of your mind.

How To Overcome Fear Of Public Speaking

Woman standing behind a podium and speaking in public.
Photo by Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The good news is that modern cognitive science has given us powerful insights in how our unconscious minds can be influenced and changed. If we use these principles as a guide, the roadblocks get cleared away fast, and the path through the maze becomes easier. Now, getting rid of the nervousness becomes possible.

Much of what we do before a talk is based on the common and ineffective advice we get. The sad part is that these tips are designed for helping the reasoning part of our brain overcome fear of public speaking. But what happens when we stand before a live audience? Our subconscious mind and the fears associated with it, kick in. It overpowers the rational part of our brain making it pretty much non-functional.

Now all the well-intentioned training goes out the window. And we are left paralyzed in fear. So the key for getting over your public speaking anxiety is to use psychological tools that influence the subconscious mind. And not the reasoning, conscious part. That is the only way to cure the problem.

Take A Dale Carnegie Course On Public Speaking To Become A Better Speaker

If you want to transform your life, the best public speaking tip would be to sign up for a Dale Carnegie course. The methods they employ develop your subconscious mind to gradually let go of its fears.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett attributes much of his success to the Dale Carnegie public speaking course he took early on in his career. Buffett shared with a reporter that he does not display his prestigious masters degree from Columbia Business School in his office. Instead, he showcases the certificate he got from the Dale Carnegie public speaking course he took. Such is the value he places on the effectiveness of these approaches for improving the way one speaks in public.

They have several types of public speaking courses. Find the one that best fits your needs. Here are two suggestions:

High Impact Presentations

Public Speaking Mastery

If you cannot afford the course or don’t have time to attend one in person, the next best thing would be to read Dale Carnegie’s book:

How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking

Best Book For Improving Public Speaking


There are several Dale Carnegie books that are life-changing. But for public speaking tips and overcoming fear, this is the best.

Cover page of the book How To Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People By Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie

Public Speaking Tips You Can Start Using Today

For some immediate advice on public speaking that you can try out today, use the 5 public speaking tips outlined below. All are designed to reduce your subconscious fear of live audiences. If you follow them, you will get a parallel experience to an actual Dale Carnegie class. But since you won’t have an active coach to help you, you will need some self-discipline to push yourself in the right direction.

1. Volunteer For Opportunities To Speak In Public

Starting with smaller assignments, sign up for as many public speaking opportunities as you can. Even something where you have to just read from a book. Such as being a lector in your church or reading books at your local library. The point is to get up before a group of people and speak often.

Businesswoman holding a megaphone and speaking to the public with her leg bent and arm raised.
Photo by Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The more you put yourself our face-to-face in front of a live audience, the faster your subconscious will learn to cope with the fear it faces. Think of a time when you’ve gone on an extreme roller coaster ride. The first time would have scared the daylights our of you.

But if you are like the rest of us, you might have gone right back in the line and tried the ride a few more times. Did the third time seem as scary as the first? You cannot lecture or pump up your unconscious mind to let go of a fear. It needs to go through the experience and live to survive, to develop confidence.

2. Focus On What You Do Well When You Speak In Public

Rather than looking for what your weakness are when making a speech, find the things you do well. Focusing on your negative points will just reinforce to your subconscious mind that it is justified in its fears every time you speak in public. And this is the last thing you want to do. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the common public speaking training courses spend most of their time on. Trying to show you what you lack.

As with any approach to positive thinking, dwelling on the good builds up your self-confidence. And if you have just a little more trust in your public speaking abilities, it will automatically iron out some of your other kinks when you present your material to an audience.

Blonde woman in a superhero costume in a confident pose with her hands on her hips.

The truth is, even if you stutter or stumble through your presentation, your audience takes notice of your courage. The struggle they see conveys authenticity and credibility for you, the speaker. People will prefer to take their advice from genuine, trustworthy sources like yourself. Rather than slick, smooth-talking salespeople who are more interested in basking in their own oratory skills.

Developing A Positive Mindset For Public Speaking


One of the best books for learning how to relentlessly seek things to be grateful for and ways to find fulfillment and happiness in your life.

Cover page of the Power of Positive Thinking

3. Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety Through Visualizations

What you do just before a talk will also determine its outcome. A mistake many of us make is to spend the minutes before our talk or interview going over the details of what we need to say.

What this ends up doing is telling our subliminal mind that we’re not fully prepared and might fail. No wonder it reacts with fear as it was designed to do when we roamed the Savannah.

Black and white photo of women competing in a relay race at a track meet.

Next time try this instead. Spend the time visualizing the past times you’ve done a similar task and excelled at it. Make the visualization even easier by looking at Google images of winning athletes on your phone.

Now you are persuading your subliminal mind to success. The shift with this from a negative framing to a positive persuasion game in your mind will be significant. You will see dramatic improvements with this approach where you affirm your previous success and power through fears.

Public Speaking Tips On Influencing Audiences


This concept is discussed more in Robert Cialdini’s book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence And Persuade. You can read a review of Pre-Suasion here.

Cover page of Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence And Persuade by Robert Cialdini

4. Compliment Your Public Speaking Skills Through Affirmations

Develop more confidence in your public speaking ability by praising yourself whenever you get a chance. Keep telling yourself that you are great at giving a talk. Relive the positive things people have told you of your past speaking gigs.

Woman holding an iPad with her hand raised in front of a yellow background.

And, if someone asks you if you are nervous about an upcoming speech, only say positive things. Tell them you are going to do great and are not at all worried. If you say this out often enough, your subconscious will start getting convinced of your newfound courage and self-confidence as well.

Do the opposite, that is, tell others and yourself that you are nervous and unprepared — and you will be feeding your subconscious mind with even more reasons to keep you paralyzed in fear every time you have to speak in public.

5. Practice Your Speech To Become A Better Speaker

Practicing your talk several times will not only prepare you better for the big day, but it will have a profound impact on soothing your subconscious mind. Repetition of your talk reinforces to your subliminal mind that you have things under control. Which brings down its fear factor several notches.

Don’t always start a practice session at the beginning of your talk. Sometimes start in the middle or at the end. This will give you a better sense for which parts you need to spend more effort on improving.

Practice the first 2-3 minutes of your talk several times in a row. This is the part where you will still have the initial nerves and you don’t want to trip yourself up at the start of your talk.

Remember To Smile When You Speak In Public

Woman smiling while speaking and confidently making a presentation at work.

One of the most important things to practice is smiling. When your audience first casts their eyes on you, unless you are giving a eulogy, make sure they see you in a genuine smile. The smile lets them connect positively with you at the beginning of your talk. It also tells them that you are confident in your speaking abilities. And, most important of all, it lets your subconscious mind know that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Practice being able to produce a genuine, warm smile. Research in psychology suggests that an impactful smile is one wide enough that the wrinkles around your eyes show.

Other Psychological Tricks To Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety

Learn to enjoy the feeling you get after speaking for the first couple of minutes of your talk. This is when your nervousness subsides and the confident feeling sets in. The knowledge that you are delivering the speech exactly as rehearsed.

When you do this several times, you build the real confidence that experienced speakers have. That, while there may always be nervousness before a talk, you know it will be under control a minute or two after the initial adrenaline rush. At which point, you hit the sweet spots you practiced for.

Believe me, it’s an exhilarating and addictive feeling. And when you get to the point of yearning for it, you know you’ve reached a level where you have overcome most of your fear of public speaking.

Body Language Tips For Effective Public Speaking

Once you get past your main fear of public speaking, you could look to improving your body language while you make a presentation. Ex FBI agent and spy catcher Joe Navarro has conducted thousands of interrogations. In his best-selling book, What Every Body Is Saying, he provides us with the real clues to look for in a person’s non-verbal behavior.

Most of his tips are not obvious and go counter to what many of us have been led to believe. A must-read book for deciphering the body language of others and ourselves.

What Every Body Is Saying


An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.

Learn which body language positions and gestures help convey confidence to your audience during your talk. And how to eliminate the ones that show anxiety and stress.

Cover page of What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

Here are some of the things you can do to convey self-confidence when you speak through your body language.

When you make gestures with your hands, make sure that both thumbs pop up as often as possible. Also, do plenty of “steepling gestures” (fingers of both hands pushed together but palms apart, forming the shape of a church steeple). This demonstrates power, leadership and control of the stage and your audience.

On the other hand, interlacing and rubbing of the fingers shows that you are struggling and having difficulty with your talk and presentation. Or predominantly gesturing with your thumbs pointing down which is a tell that you are hesitant about your material and not able to connect with the audience.

The Quick And Easy Way To Effective Public Speaking

Always shoot for the 80/20 rule. The first 80% of the learning curve is the easiest. The last 20% is hard, and often not needed. What you learn here will get you to about an 80% effective public speaker. For most of us, this puts us at a level significantly above our peers.

What if you are in a field where you need to be even more accomplished at public speaking? Then you will need to take a professional public speaking course to get to the remaining 20% skill level.

Why Is Public Speaking Important?

Success in almost every professional setting is driven by our ability to speak well and boldly before audiences. Many of us settle for less and convince ourselves to sit back in the crowd. To be listeners and followers forever. But little is accomplished by staying out of the spotlight. No leadership path exists there.

Like Warren Buffet, at some point in your life you will realize that enough is enough. And you will need to get up and take action. What you learn here will get you far.

Communicate with strength and assuredness to your live audience. Go from a nervous speaker to a confident, assertive commander of the stage. And drive even more success in your life.

Lastly, if you find these public speaking tips useful, pass them on to others you might think would benefit from them because they might thank you for it.


Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at smendonsa@master-influencer.com.


Keywords

Public Speaking Tips; How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking; Become a Better Speaker; Self-Confidence; Public Speaking Anxiety; Career Advice; Personal Development; Affirmations; Pre-Suasion; Body Language.

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