How to Stop Being Frightened of Public Speaking

Public Speaking? I’d rather die!

Well, that may be an overly dramatic statement but it’s one that has been made to me in some form or another quite a few times.

When I’m working directly with women on advancing their careers inevitably we begin to look at how they can raise their profile. One way of raising your profile is to offer to speak, at work meetings or seminars, or at a related event like a conference.

For some women my suggestion is greeted with total horror. The idea is total anathema and they go out of their way to avoid it.


It’s no good saying to them visualise yourself doing it well and you’ll be fab. All they can visualise is themselves tripping onto the stage, their knicker elastic failing, breaking power point, suddenly losing their senses and commenting on the pink haired woman in the front row, and forgetting everything they ever wanted to say.

So that’s where we start. Not necessarily with the knicker elastic scenario, but definitely with the falling over and forgetting! Usually they are imagining themselves in front of a huge crowd so I bring it down a bit. Think just half a dozen, presenting on a topic you know well. No one should start with X factor style proportions! Start small, build to big. Imagine the worst happening if you want. There is some evidence that seeing ourselves doing things perfectly can cause us to give us a less good performance as we get complacent and psychologically feel we’ve ‘delivered’ already.

Just Learn It

For most of us public speaking is something we have to learn. If you want to advance your career at some point you’ll have to mistress it (is there a gender neutral word for ‘master’ it…?) Start small and build your confidence. Prepare well and have notes but try and learn some of what you need to say. If you have to read it, practise doing it at a reasonable pace.  Take a short acting course where you’ll learn about breathing and pacing and voice control. And also little tips like not directly looking into your audience’s eyes but at the tops of their foreheads, less intimidating and they can’t tell! Try it out where the end result is not so loaded, i.e. offer to speak for free at a small lunch.

If you want to get ahead, you need to raise your profile. If you are the senior person in an organisation or department, usually public speaking comes as part of the territory. So get cracking on building your confidence in this area now!

What are your favourite tips for combating public speaking nerves?

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Posted on July 27th, 2012 by

2 Responses to “How to Stop Being Frightened of Public Speaking”

  1. Great article Jane. I loved the picture of knicker elastic problems and then tipping off the stage. I did once fall off a very high stage but dressed as the White Rabbit from Alice and couldn’t see anything as I was wearing a ‘rabbit head’ It was a very regrettable experience both embarrassing and painful.
    My best advice for overcoming nerves is plan and practice and practice and practice and then there is no longer room for nerves!

    • Jane says:

      Oh Charlotte! I’m loving the rabbit images. Thanks. My most embarrassing moment was when I used to appear in court a lot (not as a defendant I hasten to add!). I spent almost an hour addressing the bench and out of the corner of my eye could see the lawyers tittering and winking at me but ignored them as that wasn’t totally unusual behaviour. It was only when the bench retired to consider that they roared with laughter and told me my blouse had popped open! I guess we’ve all had our moments.

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