Embrace Your Anxiety

Death, snakes, and speaking in public. These are people’s three greatest fears. Anxiety about public speaking is natural. The surest solution is not fighting the anxiety, but accepting and working with it. Anxiety can even improve your presentation. When you feel anxious remember the following.

  • Address the physiological aspects of anxiety. Anxiety is a physical condition that can be addressed by a regimen of physical activities. Deep breathing, stretching, and movement can reduce the physical symptoms. Find what works for you. Likewise, people are less anxious when physically comfortable. Wear appropriate, but comfortable clothes and shoes. Be sure to eat appropriately. Obtain lighting, temperature, ventilation, lectern height, and other physical accommodations that favor your comfort. Always have water available.
  •  Prepare well and plan around potential problems. Always rehearse and prepare your presentations. Preparation breeds confidence and reduces the risks of anxiety provoking flubs. Do a room and equipment check to fix any potentially distracting or disabling physical problems (e.g. no lectern, burnt out bulb in projector, faulty sound system, etc.).
  • Visualize yourself succeeding. Great speakers develop a visual image of succeeding before they ever walk up to the lectern. It may come naturally or they may consciously create it, but it is a detailed mental picture of what their successful presentation will look like. It may even involve a little positive "self-talk." We need to visualize success to counter our mind’s tendency is imagine the worst—which rarely happens. We tend to translate our nervousness and discomfort into believing that we appear more nervous and uncomfortable than what the audience actually sees.
  • Speak on topics you know and like. People are less anxious when they are secure in their knowledge and engaged in their topic. They are more enthused and confident. Speakers usually have more influence than they imagine to speak on their topics.
  • Get off to a good start. Your anxiety level will dip sharply once you are successfully into your presentation. Your attention will get focused on the act of presenting itself. Plan openings carefully. Openings are the most controllable part of a presentation.
  • Know this—the audience is on your side. Don’t be afraid of them. They share your anxiety about public speaking. Unless you alienate them by holding yourself out as above or at odds with them, they will want you to succeed as they would hope to succeed if they were in your place. Even if your anxiety creates discomfort, they will be very empathetic. So get them on your side early. Meet and greet some of them prior to speaking. You usually can do this by arriving early. Sometimes it helps to have a few familiar and friendly faces in the audience to turn to during your presentation for support and reassurance.
  •  You are where you are for a good reason. You are speaking for a reason. You have information, insight, expertise or some other commodity the audience wants. You have earned the right to be there.
  • Visual aids and props can sometimes bolster control and confidence. Overheads and props can be used to take some of the spotlight off you (if that makes you more comfortable). Some people find they give them something constructive to do with their hands. Overheads and easels can reduce your reliance on notes and make it easier to move around naturally.
  • Some anxiety is good. One of the great fears of experienced performers is going on stage with no anxiety. That is a sure recipe for a flat, dull performance. Anxiety is a sign of life. It is energy flowing. Properly channeled, it elevates performance. 
  • Just be yourself. When you are really nervous, and it shows, and you don’t know what to do, get on the safest most reliable turf available. Just be your honest and sincere self. Do it in a direct, plain, and brief way. Do your best and let the chips fall where they may. The audience will understand and may just love you. But, being yourself is more than lurking in your "comfort zone." It’s being all the "you" you are capable of being. So be yourself, but all of yourself!

Log in to edit