How to Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety

How come some people enjoy public speaking so much, while it scares the hell out of the rest? How come some people look for opportunities to get in front of an audience, while others do whatever they can to avoid it. The answer is simple, public speaking is scary and exciting at the same time, like the thrill rides in an amusement park. Once you get past the anxiety, excitement is all you’re left with. In this post, I’m going to explain you how to get past your anxiety, so that you’ll not only speak confidently, but actually enjoy it and look forward for your next speech.

The Critical Skill for Your Career and Social Life

Public speaking is crucial for your career. You can’t get past the entry level positions without public speaking skills, no matter how intelligent you are or how hard you work. Once in a while, we come across a person with no apparent intelligence or talent who has a great career or business. We wonder how they did it. They are the people who are willing to do the things that others avoid. Public speaking is one of those things.

In every social gathering, someone has to take the lead and make an introductory speech. You could be that person and take a big burden off the shoulders of your peers. That will gain you the respect and the goodwill of your peers. It will give you a big sense of satisfaction. Thanks to your improved profile, career and business opportunities and quality relationships will flow to you. Moreover, you will approach every social situation with confidence. You will able to express your knowledge, ideas, and opinions in every social setting. As a result, your overall quality of life will improve dramatically.

You can do it.

What separates the winners from the losers is their mindset. Successful people have the growth mindset. They aren’t bothered with where they are today. What matters is where they want to be in the future. They pay the price to get there. This price can be countless hours of work, the embarrassment of public failure over and over, being subject to criticism, or downright humiliation. They don’t give up. They stick with it, until they succeed. If you want to succeed in public speaking and in life in general, you need to adopt the fundamental principle of personal development.

Set a specific goal.

The first step is to set a goal. Make it a big one. The greater your goal, the more motivated and inspired you’re going to feel and the harder you’re going to work. Would you like to address your colleagues and customers in a company event? Would you like to organize your own workshop? Would you like to speak in a prestigious event like TED? Would you like to speak in front of a stadium filled with people?

  • What is the event?
  • What is the size of the audience?
  • Who’s going to be your audience?
  • Set a deadline. When do you want to have accomplished this goal?

When you set that goal, print it on a piece of paper and post it somewhere where you can see every day.

Immersion

My favorite skill development technique is immersion. Immerse yourself with public speaking. Read, listen to, and watch every resource on public speaking. Prepare several speeches and practice them. Invite family, friends, and colleagues and give speeches to them. Then go out to the field and give a speech every day for the next thirty days. Imagine where your public speaking skills will be at the end of those thirty days. Once you get over your initial timidity, make sure you give public speeches regularly, so that your newly acquired skills don’t atrophy.

Graduated Exposure

There are several factors that affect your anxiety level in a public speaking engagement.

  • How important is the event? Is it critical for your career or education? Is it just a birthday party speech?
  • Who is the audience? How well do you know them? Are you doing a PhD defense in front of your jury and a group of critical academicians? Or are they just your family and friends?
  • How big is the audience? Are you speaking in a convention hall in front of thousands of people? Are you speaking in a meeting room with a few people?
  • What is the setting? Are you going to speak on a stage with spotlights on you? Are you going to speak in front of a room?

The idea here is to start with the least intimidating setting and build your way up to the most intimidating. This is called graduated exposure and you can learn more about it in my post about overcoming shyness. This requires hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort. You cannot skip the easy speaking assignments and then expect to be fully confident when the stakes are high. Do the work.

Get out of your comfort zone and stay there!

As you see by now, improving your public speaking skills requires some courage. It requires you to get out of your comfort zone regularly and risk public failure. You need to be OK with that. Make piece with failure. It is OK to fail. As a matter of fact, failure is your best friend. Every time you fail, you learn something new and you stretch your comfort zone a little. The next time, you face a similar challenge, you’ll be much more confident.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, as the title of a book suggests. The good news is that once you build courage and confidence, you can apply those qualities in every area of your life. They are universal qualities.

Join a Public Speaking Club

Toastmasters is a public speaking club with branches all over the world. They have a very friendly atmosphere, because all the members are there to improve their public speaking skills, just like you. Most of them have been where you are right now. They understand what it means to have public performance anxiety. Moreover, their membership fees are very affordable. You can join them whatever your current level is.

Toastmasters clubs usually meet twice per month. The meetings include prepared speeches, table topics, and evaluations. Table topics are improvised speeches. If you choose to participate, you receive a topic from the organizer and you make an impromptu speech between one to two minutes.

If you want to experience a Toastmasters meeting, contact your local club. They welcome guests to their meetings. As a member of a Toastmaster club, you are welcome as a guest in other clubs. When you get used to speaking in your club, it’s time to make speeches in other clubs to get out of your comfort zone. Toastmasters always provides you with challenges.

I certainly recommend that you participate in their speech contests. This is a great exercise to get out of your comfort zone and speak in front of greater audiences. The speech contests are conducted on different levels. The winners of each level proceed to the next level, until they compete in the world championship. Don’t worry, if you can’t proceed to the next level. Ask your fellow members for side events where you can give speeches. If there aren’t any, organize one.

Ditch the drugs and alcohol.

Last but not least, a word of caution. Do not rely on alcohol or drugs to overcome your public performance anxiety. You have the power inside to face any challenge. Even if you fail, you’ll walk away much stronger. If you’re inclined to take that path, read my post on overcoming shyness and see what happened to me when I did that.

You create your reality.

If you think that there will be critical people in your audience, you’ll be intimidated and perform poorly, this is exactly what will happen. If you think that there will be friendly people in your audience, you’ll be energized, and have fun delivering your speech, this is exactly what will happen as well.

Summary

  • Adopt the growth mindset
  • Set a goal
  • Immerse yourself in theory and practice
  • Get out of your comfort zone regularly. Stretch yourself a little more every time.
  • Join Toastmasters and participate in their events
  • Stay away from drugs and alcohol
  • Imagine a positive outcome
  • Enjoy your stage time!

Recommended Reading

If you want to learn more about how to deal with fear in general, I recommend the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.