Fear of Public Speaking

This week Orlando anxiety counselor Amy V. Smith shares her own personal fears of public speaking and offers 10 suggestions for overcoming these fears.

Amy V. Smith, MS
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Registered Play Therapist

Are you someone who gets nervous when you have to speak in front of others?  Do you avoid public speaking at all costs? Have you ever missed out on an opportunity for growth because public speaking was part of the job?  You are not alone. Fear of public speaking is a common form of anxiety.  Many of us avoid situations that require speaking in front of others due to fear of making mistakes, fear of forgetting our message, or fear about what people will think of us. The fear can also cause a physical response like getting an upset stomach, sweating, or even visibly shaking. As a counselor in Orlando, Florida you would think I have all the tools to figure this out. The truth is…. I do not.  I still get nervous before speaking in front of others.

I generally don’t mind speaking to a room full of strangers, but add some people I know and it’s a different story. My chest starts to feel heavy, my voice seems to crack, my face gets red, my hands sweat, I talk faster than I already do, and sleep the night before is non-existent.  For presentations I had to do in school I just powered through and dealt with the anxiety and sleepless nights, and tried to do my best.  Whatever grade I got was fine with me as long as the presentation was over.

Things are different now. Presentations are no longer for grades or because “I have to”. They happen now by choice. It just so happens I have one coming up for which I am extremely nervous. This presentation is in front of a room full of people I know, introducing someone I care deeply about.  Powering through is just not an option this time. It’s too important. I care too much about the person to just wing it or “power through”. So I have been working on some research to learn ways to reduce my anxiety. Here are some tips I’ve learned.

According to an article written by Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P. for the Mayo Clinic these tips might help:

  • Know your topic. The better you understand what you’re talking about — and the more you care about the topic — the less likely you’ll make a mistake or get off track. And if you do get lost, you’ll be able to recover quickly. Take some time to consider what questions the audience may ask and have your responses ready.
  • Get organized. Ahead of time, carefully plan out the information you want to present, including any props, audio or visual aids. The more organized you are, the less nervous you’ll be. Use an outline on a small card to stay on track. If possible, visit the place where you’ll be speaking and review available equipment before your presentation.
  • Practice, and then practice some more. Practice your complete presentation several times. Do it for some people you’re comfortable with and ask for feedback. It may also be helpful to practice with a few people with whom you’re less familiar. Consider making a video of your presentation so you can watch it and see opportunities for improvement.
  • Challenge specific worries. When you’re afraid of something, you may overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening. List your specific worries. Then directly challenge them by identifying probable and alternative outcomes and any objective evidence that supports each worry or the likelihood that your feared outcomes will happen.
  • Visualize your success. Imagine that your presentation will go well. Positive thoughts can help decrease some of your negativity about your social performance and relieve some anxiety.
  • Do some deep breathing. This can be very calming. Take two or more deep, slow breaths before you get up to the podium and during your speech.
  • Focus on your material, not on your audience. People mainly pay attention to new information — not how it’s presented. They may not notice your nervousness. If audience members do notice that you’re nervous, they may root for you and want your presentation to be a success.
  • Don’t fear a moment of silence. If you lose track of what you’re saying or start to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it may seem like you’ve been silent for an eternity. In reality, it’s probably only a few seconds. Even if it’s longer, it’s likely your audience won’t mind a pause to consider what you’ve been saying. Just take a few slow, deep breaths.
  • Recognize your success. After your speech or presentation, give yourself a pat on the back. It may not have been perfect, but chances are you’re far more critical of yourself than your audience is. See if any of your specific worries actually occurred. Everyone makes mistakes. Look at any mistakes you made as an opportunity to improve your skills.
  • Get support. Join a group that offers support for people who have difficulty with public speaking. One effective resource is Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization with local chapters that focuses on training people in speaking and leadership skills.

I also plan to use some of my own tried and true tips for relaxation:

  • I will drink Sleepytime Tea and use my lavender aromatherapy diffuser the night before.
  • I will put lavender oil on my neck and wrists to help me remain calm during the presentation.
  • I will drink chamomile tea just before the big talk.
  • I will have a mantra for the day reminding myself why I am doing this in the first place.
  • I will practice the day of the event in the room where the speech will happen with all the equipment and microphones set up just like it will be for the actual speech.
  • I will remember that the audience is rooting for me.
  • I will remember that nervousness and excitement feel the same and choose excitement.
  • I will have compassion for myself.
  • I will allow my true self to shine through using humor and honesty.
  • I will congratulate myself when it is over for a job well done no matter what.

In the end I just have to trust that all will happen as it is supposed to happen.  I am not a public speaker and don’t expect I will be in the future.  If I make a mistake I will move on. I will remember these tips are to help me give an introduction worthy of the person I will be introducing. I will know if tears start to fly and nervousness slips in others will realize how important this person is to me and see that my nerves are really just admiration, grateful feelings this person is in my life, and sheer joy for what is to come.  All the rest really doesn’t matter.  If you struggle with public speaking the counselors and life coaches at Life Skills Resource Group in Dr. Phillips, Florida are all qualified to help you navigate through the fear of public speaking.  Please feel free to give our office a call today and we will guide you on this journey.  We can be reached at 407-355-7378 for a free phone consultation.


Amy Smith