How to overcome fear of public speaking?

A governor speaking.

Mark humorously recalls his first attempt at speaking before a large group.

“Shortly into my speech,” he says, “I collapsed!”

Though extreme, Marks experience illustrates the aversion many have to public speaking.

Some view it as a fate worse than death!

This was revealed in a poll asking, “What do you fear most?”

As expected, “heights,” “financial problems,” “flying,” “serious illness,” and “death” were high on the list.

But topping them all—the number one fear—was “speaking before a group”!

The same can be true of you.

Public speaking is a latent capability that anyone can develop.

You can overcome fear of speaking in public by following these suggestions:

1. Don’t label yourself

“I’m too shy.” “I’m too young.” “I’m too old.” “I’m too self-conscious.”

These are examples of self-imposed labels.

They hinder you from reaching goals that are quite attainable.

Labels often become self-fulfilling prophecies.

For example, the person who labels himself  “shy” will keep closing the door on opportunities that challenge shyness.

This behavior, in turn, convinces him that he really is shy.

Thus a cycle is created in which he acts out and reinforces his self-imposed label.

One psychologist notes:

“If you believe that you can’t do something, . . . you will act that way, and even be that way.”

Dr. Lynne Kelly of the University of Hartford (U.S.A.) claims that shyness can be a learned response.

What we learn, we can unlearn.

The same can be true of self-consciousness, stage fright, and other hindrances to public speaking.

2. Make Nervousness Work for You

A longtime actor was once asked if after years of experience he still got nervous before a performance.“Sure,” he said. “I still get butterflies before every performance. But over the years, I’ve managed to teach them to fly in formation.”

The objective, then, is to control nervousness, not to eliminate it altogether.


Because not all nervousness is bad.

There are two types of nervousness.

One stems from lack of preparation.

But the other is a more positive anxiety.

This type of nervousness is good for you because it will prompt you to do your best.

This nervousness simply proves that you care.

To keep nervousness to a minimum, try the following:

(a) Think of your talk as a conversation rather than a speech.

“It’s just plain talking,” says veteran Charles Osgood, “and you talk all the time.”

Collectively, the audience is the person you are conversing with.

At times it may be appropriate to relax and smile.

The more conversational your approach, the more relaxed you will be.

There are times, however, when the material and the occasion may call for a more formal, serious, and even dynamic tone.

(b) Remember that the audience is on your side!

Even when nervousness shows, most audiences are empathetic.

So view the audience as your friend.

They want you to succeed!

Think of them as your guests, and yourself as the host.

Rather than thinking that the audience should make you comfortable, tell yourself that as the host you will make them comfortable.

Turning the tables this way will help to allay your nervousness.

(c) Concentrate on your message, not on yourself.

Think of yourself as a messenger who is simply delivering a telegram.

The messenger gets little attention; it is the telegram that the receiver wants.

The same is true when you are delivering a message to an audience.

The spotlight is primarily on the message, not on you.

The more enthused you are about the message, the less anxious you will be about yourself.

(d) Do not overeat beforehand.

One professional speaker remembers eating a hearty meal before giving a two-hour lecture.

Of his talk, he recalls:

The blood that ought to have been in my brain was down in my stomach wrestling with steak and potatoes.”

A big dinner can be your worst enemy when you go before an audience.

Watch what you drink as well.

Caffeine may make you jumpy. Alcohol will dull your senses.

You may always experience a surge of nervousness when you begin speaking before an audience.

But with experience, you will find that this initial nervousness is nothing more than that—initial nervousness, which vanishes shortly after you begin speaking.

3. Prepare!

Dale Carnegie once said:

A speech is a voyage with a purpose, and it must be charted. The person who starts nowhere, generally gets there.”

To get somewhere, you must be well prepared.

The gift of gab is no gift to your audience.

So how can you go about preparing?

Research and sift.

Never skimp on research.

“The only way to be comfortable in front of an audience is to know what you’re talking about,” says communications expert John Wolfe.

Become an expert on your subject.

Collect much more information than you can possibly use.

Then sift through your material, separating the “chaff” from the “wheat.”

Even the “chaff” will not be wasted—it will give you added confidence in the information that you do use.


‘Eat, sleep, and breathe’ your subject.

Turn it over in your mind during all odd moments of the day.

Think over it for seven days; dream over it for seven nights,” said Dale Carnegie.
Ponder until the importance and urgency of your message overrides your nervousness.

Consider your audience.

Wear your most presentable clothing.

Also, your research material must be made to fit your audience.

So consider their thinking: What are their beliefs?

What do they already know about your subject?

How does your material fit their daily life?

The more you address these questions, the more intensely the audience will listen, viewing your information as tailored to their specific needs.

4. Best Foot Forward

Today’s world contains every means of instant communication imaginable.

Yet “in most situations,” notes the book Get to the Point,

the most effective means of communication is human being to human being.”

The above suggestions should help you master such communication.

Rather than holding back with needless fear, you will find that you can speak before an audience!