How to get over your fear of public speaking, according to experts

Ah, the dreaded task of public speaking. Okay, we shouldn’t generalize—for some lucky individuals, putting thoughts into words in front of a group of strangers comes easily, but we’re guessing that’s not the case for you or you wouldn’t be reading this. For those of us who weren’t blessed with the natural gift of gab, public speaking can be a nightmare. We’re talking palms sweating, heart racing, struggling-to-breathe type of nightmare. If talking in front of a group of people makes you feel this way, you’re not alone.

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a super common phobia—so common that it’s believed to affect up to 75% of the population.

Stressing out about public speaking is completely normal, but it’s also totally annoying. When all eyes are on you, whether the eyes of strangers or colleagues, it’s embarrassing to not feel confident—and worrying abut appearing calm and collected can allow the point of your speech to get lost amidst your crippling fear. Whether public speaking makes you so anxious you can barely get any words out, or you’d just like to slow down your heartbeat a bit when you’re giving a presentation, we tapped experts for their pro advice. From meditating to practicing in a mirror to reading up on the task, here are tips and tricks to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

How to prepare for public speaking

So, you’re preparing to give a presentation to your colleagues or an organized group. First of all, take a moment to be proud of yourself—they want to hear what you have to say, and your thoughts are valued. Let that sink in.

It may sound cliché, but practice does make perfect. Psychologists, networking strategy coaches, and anxiety specialists all agree—you can never practice too much. Start by practicing in the mirror—watching yourself speak will lend insight into small tweaks you need to make in your overall performance, like hand gestures and facial expressions. Make sure to speak more slowly than usual, as we have a tendency to speed up our speech when we’re nervous. Next, before hitting the board room or stage, practice your speech in front of small groups.

Start with just one person and slowly build a larger audience of 3-5 people before taking on the full group. These smaller-scale successes will give you confidence going into the real speech.

“There's nothing like exposure therapy to lessen the charge," says Networking Strategy Coach Stephanie Thoma. "Start with lower stakes like an open-mic where you can read a poem, and move on to environments and contents that challenge you more and more.

Aside from practicing, breeding positive thoughts is the next biggest game-changer, according to clinical psychologist and neurotherapist Dr. Catherine Jackson,

"I highly recommend individuals engage in activities to work on their mindset," she said. "Much of the anxiety associated with public speaking is due to the negative messages we play in our heads about speaking in front of a crowd. A regular practice of deep breathing, meditation, and the use of mantras will help reduce negative brain clutter and help produce a feeling of natural calm well before you ever hit the stage."

For face-to-face help with your public speaking, you can look into local classes. Many community colleges and groups like Toast Masters (which has 16,800 clubs worldwide) offer public speaking classes. Specialists will give you constructive criticism and you’ll refine your skills alongside other classmates who share a similar fear and desire to improve their public speaking.

How to stay calm during public speaking

So, you’ve done your homework by practicing in front of a mirror and friends, speaking slowly, and thinking positive thoughts. It’s game time. The moments right before you begin your speech tend to be the most nerve-racking. Take this time to calm your mind by breathing slowly and envisioning your talk going smoothly from start to finish. Visualizing a successful speech can make a real difference in the outcome.

When speaking, think of your purpose instead of the performance. You have something to teach this group of people, and they want to learn from you.

Thoma recommends focusing on the intent of the speech and the audience’s needs instead of on yourself.

"You have information they want or need, and it's your job to deliver it to them," Thoma said. "When the talk is less about your ego—how your voice sounds or what your hair looks like—you have a better chance at resonating with the audience you're there to serve."

Thoma also recommends keeping in mind that you don’t need to be perfect, and the desire to achieve perfection can actually do more harm than good.

"Being polished is great, but perfection can feel less than human and isn't necessary. Studies show you're more likeable when you flub-up at least a little bit.

No one is perfect, so no one relates to perfection. The biggest thing to remember is to relax. This speech is one small moment in your life—a couple slip-ups are natural and more relatable to your audience.

Helpful books on public speaking

For more in-depth tips and tricks to help you overcome your fear of public speaking, check out these books recommended to us by psychologists and public speaking instructors.

Check out Amazon’s entire list of best-selling public speaking books here, and go crush that presentation.

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