Do your nerves get in the way of standing before a crowd and wowing them with your words? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, research reports that the fear of public speaking ranks high among the most common phobias.
Whether for a valedictory address at your graduation, a wedding toast, or a make-or-break presentation at work, being in the spotlight sends shivers down most people’s spines. Yes, almost everyone gets that rush of adrenaline before taking the stage. But the difference between seasoned speakers and novices lies in how they manage those jitters. They never think feeling anxious before giving a speech is a sign of incapability.
Want to follow suit and transform your public speaking skills? First, learn why becoming the centre of attention kicks your brain into fight-or-flight mode.
Why Public Speaking Makes You Nervous
Your fear of public speaking has everything to do with evolution. The amygdala, a part of your brain that detects threats and regulates emotions, still functions as it did back in prehistoric times.
Psychologist Catherine Pittman and author Elizabeth Karle of Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry explains that the amygdala perceives the attentive eyes of your audience as predators ready to shred you to pieces. Additionally, it conjures up all the ways your speech could go wrong and how a tiny mistake would lead to getting “kicked out of the clan.”
For most people, a less-than-ideal public speaking experience can also trigger their stage fright. Your brain tends to retain unpleasant memories more vividly than positive ones. Thus, you become hyper-vigilant of the potential pitfalls like having a lipstick stain on your teeth or forgetting your script at home. Consequently, you experience a cascade of psychological responses, including an elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and light-headedness.
How to Speak in Public With Confidence
Giving a speech is admittedly a challenging task for anyone – even for the most charismatic and outgoing people. The good news: you can calm public speaking anxiety with the right strategies and mindset.
Rehearse and record it.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Set aside at least an hour of your time to learn your material. That means no distractions like work calls or emails. Once you feel more at ease with your presentation, use your phone to record your speech. It might seem awkward to watch yourself at first, but this method lets you improve your articulation, tone of voice, and body language.
Play with your imagination.
Manifestation is the latest self-help buzzword in today’s world, and it’s not limited to granting you money and abundance. Visualisation, a powerful manifestation technique, has long been studied for its effects on mental resilience. A 2017 study found that healthcare professionals and police officers who received repetitive imagery training have lower stress levels.
To use this technique, close your eyes and engage all your senses. Imagine every detail vividly – the size of the room, the feel of the microphone in your hands, and the faces in the crowd. Then, picture how everyone listens, nods, and responds positively to you. At the end of your speech, hear the applause and revel in that rush of excitement. Visualisation trains your brain to blur the line between fiction and reality. When you envision yourself as a confident and successful speaker, you’ll act accordingly.
Use repetition effectively.
Famous orators like Martin Luther King Jr. use a technique called anaphora, which relies on repetition to drive a point and make it memorable. Think of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech where King repeated the phrase to emphasise his vision for a better future.
However, overdoing it can easily backfire. Former US President Barack Obama keeps it brief with the rule of threes. He believes ideas or information structured in a triad are more impactful, memorable, and entertaining. Try this method next time you craft your speech.
Don’t dwell on a hard question.
If someone asks you a question for which you have not prepared the answer, don’t hesitate to take a moment. Avoid filling the silence with filler words like ums and uhs. Instead, acknowledge the question and pivot to a point where you have more expertise. For example, you can say, “Let me get back to you on this. Speaking of X and Y, I’d like to bring up…” Your audience will appreciate your willingness to research the topic further. Plus, it shows your credibility as a speaker.
Invest in your appearance.
The way you look conveys a message before you even say a word. Dressing up for the occasion and feeling comfortable in your body can impact how you present yourself on stage. Pro tip: choose an outfit that exudes professionalism but showcases your personality.
Pay attention to your smile, too. Researchers suggest that having straight, white teeth can bolster your self-esteem. Consider clear aligners like ClearCorrect to move your misaligned teeth to their ideal positions. Unlike metal braces, these appliances are nearly invisible and far more comfortable.
No one is born a perfect communicator. Double down on patience, practice, and determination (a trio!) to hone your public speaking prowess. And when you keep pushing beyond your comfort zone, you’re also re-programming how your amygdala reacts to stressful events.
Crome, E., & Baillie, A. (2014). Mild to severe social fears: Ranking types of feared social situations using item response theory. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28(5), 471–479.
Militi, A., Sicari, F., Portelli, M., Merlo, E. M., Terranova, A., Frisone, F., Nucera, R., Alibrandi, A., & Settineri, S. (2021). Psychological and Social Effects of Oral Health and Dental Aesthetic in Adolescence and Early Adulthood: An Observational Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(17), 9022.
Munroe-Chandler, K. J., & Guerrero, M. D. (2017). Psychological Imagery in Sport and Performance. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology.
Pittman, C. M., & Karle, E. M. (2019). Rewire your anxious brain: How to use the neuroscience of fear to end anxiety, panic, and worry. ReadHowYouWant.