Speaking in public terrifies me. Help?

For many, the hardest thing about giving a presentation is just that, giving the presentation. The p cubed approach recognises that great delivery (p3) of the presentation is essential and as such it is important to deal with the issue of nerves.

Nervous tension is real and all good speakers will admit this. They may even suggest it helps them. For those less experienced it is important to learn not to reduce such tension but to manage it. This is not an exhaustive list but some simple tips that help. Please feel free to add others in the comments at the bottom. It of course varies for the nature of the presentation but there are different time periods to consider and everything helps.

Way Before

Confidence in having already well delivered your presentation numerous times is one of the best ways of reducing your fear. As you step into the spotlight you can have confidence that you have delivered before and that this should be no different. Practise more, it really helps.

Challenge your fear
Often our fear is of failure. Practise will hugely reduce that.  But think, have you ever, EVER wanted a speaker to fail? No. No audience does. They are on your side. Knowing that they do want you to do well, and not badly, should help. Focus on this, repeat it frequently to yourself until you believe THEY believe that. Eventually you will believe it for yourself.

Learn to centre yourself
Different things work for different people to get themselves centred or ready. For some it is distraction, others it is meditation, just something that allows you to calm a little. Find yours and go there, frequently.

Power posing
Your body language affects your confidence. Practise simply standing well; stand tall, shoulders back and head up. Just do it and you will feel better. Exercises of standing arms outstretched will also make you feel better. Get used to doing this way before the event. 

Dress well
Think sensibly about what you will be wearing and practise, wearing it. It all adds to your comfort on the day. Anti-perspirant does not work for this type of sweat so apply enough but dress accordingly and dress well. Looking good will make you feel good.

Plan B
For big presentations it is essential that you have planned and practised Plan B. If the slides fail and you have prepared for that you can pick up where you left off. If the microphone fails, can you project. If you stumble, you have practised that and can regain your position.  Knowing that have dealt with problems will again reduce your fears on the day.


Arrive early
This will allow you to get used to the venue and meet important people such as IT, the session chairman and the audience. Mingle, don’t hide. Say hello to people.

Pick a good seat
Depending on the meeting you may be formally introduced on stage or as you walk to the stage. Find out before hand and then pick a seat that allows you easy access to the stage. Do not sit in the middle of a row.

Check one, two, one, two
Ensure you are comfortable with the acoustics whether that is a microphone or you projecting to the back of the room. The sound guys will check levels for you. Tell them what you want if you feel moving on stage is valuable to your presentation and they will give you a different microphone.

Check everything works
Your presentation running all the way through with your remote control under your command is the only acceptable and safe check. Get up on the stage and make sure that it happens and accept no-ones “word” for it. Again it will give you confidence. If possible, run through the whole thing in a break if you can.

Bring a friend
Have someone in the audience you can look to. Ideally a friend but if you’ve been invited this may be the organiser or a colleague or someone you met at the break or even one of the previous speakers. Ask them to sit beside you. This helps a lot.

Immediately before

Run through your introduction.
You know what you have to say and once you have begun, your practise will remind you of good results. Run through you opening remarks.

Control your breathing
Most people breathe too fast. Concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, lift your chest and head and hold it. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth and pause. Then slowly breathe in again. It’s about being slow and controlled. Focus on your breathing. 

Applaud the previous speaker
It’s a simple thing but that physical activity will momentarily distract you. See how well they have done and how the audience values it, they will also value you. You have practised for this moment. Walk confidently to the stage.

Before you begin

Stand up tall and smile
That simple action will relax you and the audience. In the pause, find your friend and look into their eyes.

Breathe in and smile.


Speak more slowly
Thenaturaltendencyistoruneveythingtogetherwhenyouarenervous. Clearly  this  is  very  difficult  to understand.  Simply  putting  an  extra  space  between  words  will  allow  you  to  relax  a  little. Slower than you think is perfect.

Look directly at people
One tendency of nervous speakers is to scan the audience but actually about 1m above them. Although you feel this is “engaging” what you are actually doing feels like searching for attacks. Stop and look someone right in the eyes as you speak. Hold their gaze and then a little more and move on. The human contact will calm you. Now speak to someone else. It becomes more of a conversation and this is easier on your nerves.

It’s hard to be nervous when you smile and your smile will encourage others to smile at you, not necessarily immediately but it reduces tension. Even if you don’t feel like smiling the physical act of it (think photograph) will relax you.

Do not apologise
Some people use apologies as a way to calm themselves. Don’t. Psychologically it is very bad for you as it is self criticism and actually reduces your confidence. Mistakes happen and mostly the audience don’t actually see them. The harshest critic is you. Do not listen to anything that critical you says. Words out of place or slides jumping are not important. Pauses that to you feel like a decade are imperceptible to the audience. Do not criticise yourself internally or to the audience.

I’m losing it.
If you really feel you are losing everything, if you are shaking so much that you can’t carry on then just take a second. A drink of water often helps and gives you space. If you can, blank the slide. Look for your friend and get eye contact. Breathe in and out and remember, the audience is on your side, they WANT you to carry on. Smile. And back to it. Even gaps like that the audience really don’t notice. Don’t rush, just get back to your practise sessions. Spot your friend and carry on.

Finish well
You know the denouement of your talk. Make sure you build appropriately to it and deliver it with strength and pace. Don’t rush it. And smile.

Those are some general tips, why not add some more in the comments section below. Every little helps.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.