For those of you nervous about public speaking (who hasn’t been?), this is a compilation of great comments and advice people have sent to us on conquering your fear of public speaking and delivering great speeches to any audience. Among the people listed below are TEDx speakers, award-winning public speakers, business owners who’ve delivered dozens or even hundreds of speeches, and more — and every one of them has learnt something that’s helped them be a better public speaker that they’ve been kind enough to share with us.
Here is the simple query we put out:
For people nervous about public speaking or just plain bad at it, what’s your primary piece of advice you can share? All comments welcome.
The majority of responses to that were along the lines of practice, practice, practice… and be extremely well prepared. That means rehearsing your speech over and over again in front of the mirror of friends and family, and knowing it inside-out so that when it comes time to deliver it, you’re so well familiar with what you need to say that there’s no risk of you tripping up (see this comment, for example).
But beyond that primary and crucial piece of advice, here are some great points various people have made (for each one, I’ve linked to their comment for you to read about it in more detail):
- If looking at your audience directly makes you feel nervous, don’t look directly at them, but rather an imaginary line about their heads (link)
- Treat public speaking like you’re telling a story (link, link)
- Keep an open body and good posture (link)
- Focus on something trivial to get your mind off any fear and anxiety, such as how the floor feels (soft? sticky? hard? slick?) (link)
- Remember that your audience wants you to succeed, and they want to like you (link)
- Do some tongue twister exercises before going on stage (link)
- Utilize breathing exercises before and after your presentation (link)
- Practice with distractions (link) and rehearse for a bad audience (link) to help you be prepared for any scenario
- Try to have fun (link)
- Recognize the value of your voice and why you’ve agreed to speak. When there’s a good reason for you to speak and a deeper purpose, “it’s easier to shift nerves into excitement, commitment, and even passion.” (link)
- Similarly, write out a sentence that declares the following: “I want to (active verb of your choice) my audience.” For example, “I want to convince my audience that this is the best plan.” Or, “I want to inspire my audience to take action.” (link)
When I have to take a stand and start to speak in front of the public I get very anxious. At first, everything seems fine but when I start looking at the people sitting in front of me, see the dozens of pairs of eyes staring right at me, I feel terrified. I use a small trick which helps to keep my nerves under control. I don't look directly at my audience but rather at an imaginary line right above their heads. I smile, gesture, move my head around I seem to be in direct touch with the audience, yet manage to avoid the direct gaze - something that I find the most stress evoking in public speaking.
--Agnieszka Cejrowska, profesjonalne-pozycjonowanie.pl
As cliché as it may sound, it’s all about the mindset and what you tell yourself. Self-talk is so underrated! Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, don’t look at public speaking as something crazy and daunting. See it as a conversation (but its one-sided!)
I used to stress myself out and literally memorise my entire speech! Obviously, I was super nervous – what if I forget halfway? I knew memorising wasn’t a good idea but I was scared to go up on stage because I feel “unprepared” whenever I don’t memorise. So, I did that for several years until I went to a specific public speaking competition. As usual, I had memorised what I wanted to say. After the event was over, the judge told me… don’t memorise. Don’t carry a script. Treat public speaking like you are telling a story.
Visualise the key points in your heads and just say it like how you will tell your friend. It is much more natural and it won’t seem that intimidating to do!
So, my primary advice is to know your stuff & enjoy yourself. Treat it like a “story-telling” session. It’s going to be okay.
--Sindhu Mohan, Highly Basic
The biggest advice is to keep an open body and good posture. This exudes confidence not just in other people's perception of you, but also in yourself. When you're nervous your body's first line of defense is to curl up, slouch, and protect the guts. That's why you see people bend their back, cross their arms, title their head down, and put their hands together. These are body languages that will keep you from confidently speaking in public. What you need to do is stand up straight, palm facing outward, and looking up. You'll move more confidently, your mood will change, and other people's perception of you will be that of a leader and someone they want to listen to.
--Benjamin N., Full Color Cleaners
1. Be Present: When you are in front of people, your nerves can take control and it is easy to become overwhelmed. My solution? Ask yourself how the floor feels. Is it soft? Hard? Slick? Sticky? That question moves your attention to that feeling and disconnects you from the fear and anxiety you would otherwise have. It makes you feel present as opposed to worrying about the next five minutes or wondering what your audience thinks about you. If you want to be present, connect with the floor.
2. Remember what it feels like to be in the audience: We have all gone to presentations and probably sat through more bad than good. As a result, when I see a speaker I am hoping (even praying) that the speaker will succeed. I want to enjoy myself and so do the other people sitting in the room (or watching you over Zoom). Audiences are pulling for you to be great. So when you assume they don’t like you, remember that they really want to.
--David Ezell, Darien Wellness
Prior to going on that stage and microphone, do some tongue twister exercises. This unique yet very effective strategy has been helpful to me for considerable years. Doing tongue twisters allow your mouth, jaw and tongue to warm up. It will greatly help you to pronounce, enunciate and say the words clearly. It will also help you to eliminate your stammering habits since you are training yourself not to stutter during a tongue twister exercise. Evidently, the key to successful public speaking is how you prepare for it. Thus, doing some tongue twister exercises will help you a lot in preparing and conquering it.
--James Pearson, Eventuring
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If I can pinpoint any particular tip to help in public speaking, it has to be rehearse as much as possible. We have all heard the old adage practice makes perfect and this is especially true in public speaking. By rehearsing every element of your presentation until you can do it in your sleep, you would have attained a level of comfort that is akin to muscle memory. Freezing up in the middle of a speech and forgot your materials? If you have practiced enough, the words will just naturally roll off your tongue because you are that familiar. Multiple rehearsals also allows you to understand where you might trip up and you pay extra attention to that area. If possible, rehearse in front of a trusted friend or buddy and ask for feedback. This also helps us to identify blindspots and make our presentation even more impactful and relevant for the audience.
--Albert Lee, Home Living Lab
One strategy which I think is important for both beginner and expert public speakers is to Practice with distractions.
The importance of practice is already well-established. However, most people practice in a convenient and serene environment. While this helps you get prepared for delivering a good speech, it does little to prepare you for handling distractions. Many speakers are easily thrown off balance when serious distractions occur during their speech.
To avoid this, practice with distractions around you so as to get mentally ready for any eventuality.
--Jane Flanagan, Tacuna Systems
Think of every speech as though it were a favorite story that you love to tell your friends. Perhaps you've told the story dozens of times. The exact words may change each time you tell it but you never forget to include all the important details. As you tell the story, you probably make subtle adjustments based on how people are reacting to the tale. This makes the story come alive and feel active and engaging in the moment.
If someone has heard your story a few times, you may tell you something like that story gets better every time you tell it! And it's true!
This is because you know the story so well. Not only did you live it, but each time you tell it, you become more comfortable and creative in sharing it. The very same principals apply to giving an excellent speech.
When you know you need to address a group of people in a public way, it is essential that you know what you want to say and that you've thoughtfully crafted a narrative around those ideas.
This doesn't mean you should read a script word for word, in fact, that would make for a pretty boring speech, but writing down your ideas and practicing them aloud ahead of time is key. It allows you to live in the ideas and story of your speech so that it becomes a lived experience before you share it with other people.
I recommend writing down your speech then reading it allowed a few times. Your speech should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Practice saying things in different ways. Decide on the order in which you want to share important information. When you have completed the exercise, make an outline of your main points, and try giving the speech without reading. You can even test it out on real people or record yourself and watch it back.
Chances are, the more prepared you are for your speech the less nervous you will be about giving it.
--Anna Caldwell, Caldwell Media Arts
When I am preparing to speak publicly, I utilize breathing exercises before and during my presentation. Practicing a targeted breathing exercise prior to public speaking can help to increase focus and energy, calm nerves, improve relaxation and posture, and more. In addition to the benefits you'll experience prior to your presentation, practicing breathing exercises can help also help you maintain a calm and steady flow of breath during the presentation itself. This is likely to help with maintaining a steady voice and will also help you to slow down so that you aren't rushing. There are a variety of different breathing exercises that you can practice, each with different focuses and benefits. You may find that through these breathing exercises, it becomes something that you incorporate into your everyday life, helping to decrease anxiety and improve energy.
--Edwin Rubio, VaporEmpire.com
I'll never forget my first time public speaking. My hands were sweaty and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest.
After many years of public speaking, I've learned that whether your audience laughs, cries or makes any sound at all - the most important thing is to have fun. That's my secret. When I get on stage, it feels like the rush you get just before you get on a rollercoaster ride. You know it's going to be crazy, but you have to calm yourself down and just have fun.
If you tense up, you will go the entire ride without enjoying it. So, take just breathe. Don't think about the audience, and don't let the nerves get to you. Just have fun! Life is too short to live in fear; have fun and enjoy the ride.
I’m commonly asked if I’m comfortable when I get on stage these days. I’m still nervous. The nerves never really go away. You just learn how to manage them. Breath. Have Fun! Your effectiveness as a speaker is not dependent on what the audience thinks about you. Your goal is to deliver the message you were sent to give; that’s it.
--Cornelius Lindsey, corneliuslindsey.com
The best thing you can do if you feel nervous about public speaking is to recognize the value of your voice. It's important to have a holistic approach to getting yourself ready for a speaking event (or moment). Before planning out what you're going to say, you need to get clear about what the opportunity means to you on a personal level. Why have you agreed to do this? How does this task intersect with the bigger trajectory of your life? Why is your perspective needed in this way? Even for something that seems obvious, like a business pitch or wedding toast, you need to have a reason to speak, share, and do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. When there's a deeper purpose at work, it's easier to shift nerves into excitement, commitment, and even passion.
--Malika Williams, The Center for Women's Voice
Audiences probably care more about the story you just told than the pie chart on the screen behind you. Because they are more likely to remember and share the stories you tell them. Instead of stats and figures, you pack your slides, you should make your presentation personal, and remind them that you’re human.
--Shiv Gupta, Incrementors
Whoever said picture everybody naked was trying to sabotage you! I say, picture everybody with their clothes ON, staring right at you and not smiling. I'm serious! We tell all our clients, picture the worst possible thing. Hey, even picture somebody booing you. Now prepare your speech. Prepare what you would say to make that non smiling crowd laugh. Picture what you would say to the people booing. Picture it in your head...for hours and hours. Play it on repeat. Because the truth of the matter is that public speaking is very simple if you are prepared. If you know your material and you are crystal clear on exactly what you are going to say, nothing (not even a bad crowd) can make you veer off course. It's a little cliche, but practice does make perfect. Practice can put your nerves at bay and make your confidence soar. For many people, public speaking is no fun, but picturing the worst case and how you would get through it works. Of course, knowing your audience, knowing your crowd, and making sure you are practicing good material is vital, but the key is repetition over and over. Try it next time!
--Emily Pantelides, Pantelides PR
When we are nervous, it’s natural to become self-conscious and to focus on how we look and sound. We aim the camera towards ourselves and pay attention to every fault.
I coach my clients to write out a sentence that declares the following: “I want to (active verb of your choice) my audience.” For example, “I want to convince my audience that this is the best plan.” Or, “I want to inspire my audience to take action.”
By focusing on WHY you are presenting, by focusing on your INTENTION, the camera turns away from you and onto them. It becomes much more difficult to be nervous because you are actively pursuing an action. You have something to do other than focus on yourself.
--Jenni Steck, jennisteck.com
1. Know your content inside and out, and ensure it is hyper-relevant and important to your audience.
2. Make sure to pace the room and get the audience involved in your presentation. Audience engagement is key.
3. Make eye contact with participants in the audience.
4. Ask if anyone has questions periodically throughout your presentation, and try to make it conversational.
5. Practice the speech 4-5x in front of a mirror. This will help to get the kinks out and allow you to feel more comfortable when doing it live.
--Kevin Miller, The Word Counter