Advice about fear of public speaking

As many as 10-20% of an average group of people feel very uncomfortable or anxious at the prospect of speaking in public. Symptoms of anxiety can include a dry mouth, blushing, increased perspiration and an increased heart rate. Do you feel anxious before speaking in public or do you dread what others may think of you? Maybe the worst part is just when it is your turn.

It is important to think about yourself and others in situations where you are the focus of attention. Think about your thought patterns. Are you positive about yourself or are you harsh and self-critical? Negative thoughts appear automatically - we have to work on thinking positively. Observe and identity your negative thoughts. Stop, question and reformulate to develop thoughts that are more realistic.

Before speaking in public

Prepare yourself. As you prepare and practice what to say, you should prepare yourself mentally. Pay attention to negative thoughts about yourself and imagine that you can handle the situation. Practice your speech in front of the mirror or in front of friends. Concentrate on the goal. Find out where you will be, what the room looks like and what aids, such as a white board, computer and projector, you may have.

Have a script. Have a written script, preferably in the form of short sentences and bullet points rather than exact wording. Use colours to highlight important words. Number your script and structure in other materials you will use so that you avoid unnecessary uncertainty in the moment. 

Teammates, not opponents. Try to see your audience as your teammates rather than as opponents. They want you to succeed.

Have the right focus. Focus on what you have to tell, not how you may be viewed. Remember to breath and allow yourself to take breaks in order to drink some water or find your place in your script.

 After speaking in public 

  • Keep in mind what was successful and what could be developed further.
  • Compare yourself only with yourself. It is not a competition. Experiment to find what works for you.
  • It is acceptable to mess up. Nobody is perfect. Even your mistakes provide you with useful experiences. Nobody is perfect.
  • Remember you have the support of the audience. Speaking before others is, or should be, a collaborative situation. Success does not depend entirely on the individual; the audience contributes to it.

Support and advice

Please turn to the Student Health Centre if you would like some more advice or individual support about how to handle your fear of speaking in public.

Have a look at our advice about stress and performance anxiety to get some more examples of how you can handle stress and negative thoughts.