Public speaking anxiety

In the first three decades of my career I was afraid of public speaking. At first I was terrified and then, gradually, over the years, as I delivered more and more presentations, the fear reduced but never went away. When I look back now I realise how the fear stopped me from accepting opportunities to speak that would have benefited by career.

It’s said that everyone has a fear of public speaking (aka stage fright). The fear sits on a continuum with some people terrified by the very thought of having to speak in public and others just feeling a slight hint of nervousness. 

Where do you currently sit on the public speaking fear continuum? 

Would you like to change that? 

If you answered 'yes' read on.

The intensity of performance anxiety can vary

You may have noticed that the amount of anxiety you experience before a public speaking engagement varies depending on the situation. Some common situations in which people experience more intense anxiety are:

• speaking at an especially important occasion

• speaking in front of more senior people

• speaking to a large audience

• speaking in front of cameras

People tend to experience less anxiety when they are speaking to an audience who they don’t feel is particularly demanding of them (e.g., their team at work), when they are speaking on a topic they know extremely well, or when they feel they have really mastered their material.

The goal is not to try and  eliminate all your anxiety

Anxiety is a normal feeling which everyone experiences when faced with a perceived risk to their physical and/or emotional wellbeing. Because we are wired to experience anxiety, it’s impossible to eliminate all the public speaking anxiety you experience. However, you can take steps to reduce it to a level that has no impact on your performance.

While professional performers may look cool and confident on stage, when asked they will confess to experiencing some anxiety before performing, even when they have had many years of performance experience. The secret is that they have learned to manage their anxiety and use it to energise and lift their performance.

In fact, research shows that a little anxiety before speaking, or any public performance, helps us to be more alert and focused on what we are doing. It increases our ability to perform simple tasks better and more quickly, up to an optimum point. However, if the anxiety goes beyond this optimum point, then our performance starts to deteriorate. We begin to make mistakes, and may even lose ‘the plot’ altogether, if our anxiety level gets too high. 

The purpose of the anxiety is help keep you safe from harm

When we worry about how we are going to perform and imagine performing badly, or being judged negatively on our performance, our survival operating system activates our stressor response. Immediately our body begins to adapt to help us either escape the danger or fight for our lives (the well-known fight or flight behavioural response).

When the stressor response is activated, access to our logical, rational thinking brain, is limited, as we are in ‘act now, think later’ survival mode. If we activate the stressor response prior to, or while delivering our speech or performance, we may find our mind goes blank and, as hard as we try, we just can’t remember what to say next. At that point anxiety can turn to panic!

Three things to do prior to your performance to reduce your anxiety level

Public speaking skills

Here are three things you can do to help reduce performance anxiety prior to delivering your next speech or presentation.

1. Rehearse

Practice, practice, practice your speech. Practicing aloud instils and expands confidence. With each practice round, the fear of forgetting your words or lines eases. This step may seem like a no-brainer, but many speakers find themselves unprepared when they let overconfidence keep them from rehearsing. The more you practice, the more your confidence will increase.

2. Review your rehearsals

Use your smartphone or laptop/notebook to record your rehearsals. From body movement and hand gestures to facial expressions and timing, these factors figure into the success of a speech/presentation. Practice until you like what you see and hear.

3. Adopt a challenge and/or opportunity mind-set

If you perceive the performance as a threat, you will experience anxiety. The more of a threat you perceive the performance to be, the more intense your anxiety. However, you don’t have to perceive your performance as a threat — you can reframe it is as a challenge you can meet, or as an opportunity to gain experience and grow,

This mind-set shift is powerful because the way your mind/body responds to a challenge is different from that of a threat. A challenge response gives you energy and helps you to perform under pressure. When you are operating with a challenge mind-set, you can focus on what you are trying to achieve, and you interpret any nervousness as a readiness or excitement to get on with the job. Excitement produces an energy that overcomes apprehension and makes you want to do your best to meet the challenge.

People who report being in the flow state where they are completely absorbed in what they are doing display obvious signs of the challenge response.

Would you like some help getting your anxiety under control?

If you want help getting your anxiety under control, simply click the button below to secure a free 30 min Zoom or phone consult with me, where we can explore how I can help you liberate yourself from anxiety. Alternatively give me a call or contact me today on 021 056 8389 or email

I’m on a mission to help as many people as possible enjoy lives free of unnecessary stress and anxiety. If you’d like my help, or you know someone who would benefit, click the button above or ring/text 0210568389