Overcoming the fear of Public Speaking

Palms sweaty. Heart racing. You know the feeling. Giving a presentation to a room-full of people or just voicing your opinion in a meeting can be a nerve-wracking experience. Even if you are fully prepared and have made notes, or practiced endlessly in front of your mirror, once you are on the spot, it’s pretty easy to get unnerved. Whether it is five people or a crowd of fifty, public speaking is a gut-wrenching experience for most of us.

Why does it happen, even if it is just once in a while? The human brain is wired to pay more attention to negative clues and threats in the environment. This is also true in the context of public speaking, especially for speakers who may experience social anxiety.

Public speaking can be scary but it is a necessary part of almost every career. Here are some tips to dramatically improve and overcome your on-stage jitters:

  1. Prepare your presentation well: When preparing to give a presentation or a talk at a conference, here’s how you can go about: About a week before, draw out a storyboard of about 15-20 slides, thinking over the content using stick figures or a few words that you may put on your slides and lay them put in the order most convenient for you.

For instance:

  • Introduction
  • Main topic 1
  • Example (something unique from your experience)
  • main topic 2
  • Example (something unique from your experience)
  • Main topic 3
  • Example (something unique from your experience)
  • Conclusion

Formatting your talk in this ‘point, example, point’ format not only helps you visualize your entire presentation but also allows you to think deeply about the subject matter you’re covering so you don’t leave your audience wanting more.

  1. Practice like it’s the real thing: While preparing your presentation it is very important to setup your environment in the same way you plan on giving your actual presentation. This removes unknown variables and requires you to spend less mental energy thinking about details when you’re on stage for the actual presentation.

You want to get to a point where all you have to focus on is connecting with the audience and enhancing the delivery of your story, rather than worrying about what slide is coming up next or where you need to stand on stage.

  1. Breath, stretch, and let it go: The most nerve-wracking part of public speaking are those last few minutes before heading on stage. To combat those feelings head into the bathroom, stretch your arms up, and take three deep breaths in and out.

This exercise activates the hypothalamus, and sends out hormones to trigger a relaxation response.

The feelings associated with stage fright are usually the strongest during the lead-up to the presentation rather than during it, so take a minute to breath and stretch before heading out on stage. (Cho, 2016)

To calm your nerves, it may be worthwhile to pick out some friendly faces in the audience and deliberately pause there longer as your eyes scan the room. Better yet, meet some of your audience members in advance of your speech, perhaps, by greeting them as they enter the room.  You will feel more support from the audience that way.

Priyanka Banik

Priyanka Banik

Business Development Executive

IRIANS – The Neuroscience Institute

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