How to Get Over Your Public-Speaking Nerves

How to Get Over Your Public-Speaking Nerves

I recently wrote about how to turn your ebook into a workshop and ways to make sure it’s a surefire win. But then you have to get on the stage or in front of the group and talk. Nervous? Then this post is for you.

So you’ve decided to dip your toes in the public speaking world. You’re going to step on the stage and give a presentation or offer a workshop to people who want to learn from you, and you’re excited about this.

Awesome – you should be! You know your stuff. You’ve planned your speech. You’ve prepared the handouts. You’ve strategized the timing. You’ve put together an offer. You’ve booked the room.

You’re ready to go.

There’s only one problem: You’re sweating bullets because you’re absolutely terrified of speaking to a whole crowd of strangers.

Jerry Seinfeld said it best: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

You’re thinking he’s absolutely right. You’d rather die than have to stand up and speak at the front of the room, with all eyes on you. What if you forget what you’re going to say? What if you fumble around and sound dumb? Or trip and fall off the stage?

And you’re thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? And how the hell can I get out of it?”

Before you start panicking, keep this in mind:

You’re Not Alone

It’s perfectly normal for you to feel afraid or nervous the first few times you speak in public. An estimated 75% of people experience public-speaking fear, says Wikipedia.

And Psychology Today says fears of public speaking mostly stem from the threat of being evaluated or judged by your peers – in this case, your audience.  In other words, you’re probably afraid that everyone sitting there watching you is totally passing judgment on every aspect of your presentation, your personality, your clothing, your facial expressions, your hair…

And you’re worried you won’t meet their expectations.

It’s performance anxiety at its best: You’re not afraid of speaking. You speak every day, in public, to all kinds of people. Your family, your friends, the checkout girl, the grocery bagger boy, the nice guy at the hardware store…

You have speaking in public down pat. What you’re really afraid of is that you might make a fool of yourself in front of a room full of people.

Here’s a couple tips you can try:

Focus on Your Audience

You can’t make a fool of yourself if you focus on the people sitting in front of you. That’s the truth of the matter: your presentation really isn’t about you. It’s about your audience – they’re the people who matter.

And believe it or not, not one person is there to throw rotten tomatoes at you while shouting barbed jeers. They didn’t wake up thinking, “Awesome! Today’s the day we get to watch someone FAIL. Call the media! We have to catch this idiot on film!”

They woke up thinking, “Oh cool. Today’s the day so-and-so is giving that presentation I signed up for. I’d better not be late. Don’t want to miss anything!”

Your audience came to hear you speak because they want to hear you speak. They’re interested in what you have to say, what you can teach them, and your thoughts and opinions on the subject at hand. They willingly volunteered their time because they feel listening to you is valuable and important.

They want you to succeed. Your success is their success!

Know Your Stuff

Lacking confidence in what you know can shake up nerves easily. What if someone asks you a tricky question? What if you don’t know the answer? What if you sound uncertain when you talk about that technique you’re not so comfortable with yourself?

You can’t sound uncertain if you know exactly what to say.

So prepare yourself for your presentation until you know it in your sleep. Know your material inside-out and upside down. When you know your stuff, your confidence comes naturally, and nothing will trip you up.

Think about all the potential questions you might be asked and the answers you’ll give if you are. Memorize a few humorous ways to slip out of tricky situations smoothly, just in case someone blindsides you with a surprise question you can’t answer quickly.

And rehearse. Practice your speech out loud. Practice in front of a mirror. Do it again and again – rehearse how you’ll walk, move, and talk during your presentation. Grab your closest friends and ask them to be a sit-in audience. Get them to ask you questions.

Go one step further and prepare a safety net. Take some index cards and jot down the outline of your presentation or key points and notes you want to remember.

You know the material, so it’s not a matter of reading from the cards.  Your index cards are just there to support you and help keep you on track in case you’re worried you might lose your spot.

You won’t need them, though. You’ve got this covered.

Just Do It

The easiest way to get over your public-speaking nerves is to just do it. You won’t die. Lightning won’t strike you dead. You may not give the most flawless presentation ever, but that’s just fine – very few people ever do.

And besides, you’ve rehearsed exactly what to do if you flub a line! Toss out a joke, laugh at yourself a bit and move on. Your audience will think it endearing or funny… and they’ll smile at your bravery for doing what most of them can’t do themselves.

See, that’s the real key to feeling confident about your presentation: Most people never even try to do what you will. They let fear hold them back. They spend their entire life saying, “I always wished I…” But they never did anything about it, and their wishes died a lonely death.

That fact alone nearly guarantees that after you wrap up your presentation, you’ll have at least one person come to you and say, “I wish I had the guts to do what you just did.”

Right after he tells you, “Great presentation!”, of course!

Don’t know what to talk about in your very first presentation? Why not revolve it around your latest ebook? That is, after you write it in James’ upcoming ebook-writing course, coming this April 8. You’ll learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing a great ebook – and take your overall writing skills to the next level at the same time. Now that’s what we call potential in the palm of your hand!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Love this article.

  2. Great, simple tips that can really make a difference for inexperienced speakers. I just want to add one thing regarding knowing your stuff: It’s okay to say “I don’t know.”

    Nobody knows everything, and some questions will stump you, no matter how well you rehearse. Allow yourself to be “imperfect” – it takes a lot of pressure off.

    If you don’t know the answer, maybe someone in the audience does – nothing wrong with turning it around for audience participation. Or maybe you can contact the person after the presentation, once you’ve looked into the question.

    Saying “I don’t know” is a huge fear of my clients and I think it’s important to realize that it’s not the end of the world if we don’t know everything.

    • I agree, Lisa, and thanks for adding that.

      I once worked for a large company that sent us all on customer service training, and one of the first things we learned in that training was that “I don’t know” is perfectly acceptable… as long as you follow it up with “but I’ll find out and get back to you.” It shows you cared enough about the person to find out the answer, and it benefits both of you.

      I still think “I don’t know” is just fine even if you don’t offer to find the answer. Here’s what to say in that case. “Good question! And I honestly don’t know the answer. We’ll have to look that up later on, eh? What I DO know is that…”

      The ‘good question’ makes the person you’re speaking with feel smart, so warm fuzzies bonus. The honesty on your part is always great. Suggesting both should look it up later means the onus isn’t just on you – and that you ARE interested enough to consider looking it up. (Even if you don’t.) And by moving on with what you DO know, you just segue nicely back on track.


  3. Awesome article. And when you do flub during your presentation (and you will), just keep going. Smoothly and naturally, just keep going. Backtracking, over-explaining and going overboard trying to fix it only makes things worse and makes you more flustered.

    “Yeah, so? I mispronounced the CEO’s name and my pants fell down around my ankles. Big deal. Next question?”

    • I remember piano competitions as a child, and equestrian jumping events as an adult, and theatre productions as well. In all cases, keep going is the golden rule. You don’t stop. You keep going. You act as if nothing at all happened. As if that was all part of it. Or that it was just nothing at all – a temporary blip.

      The less attention you draw to a flub, the more you realize they don’t matter. You’ll often see people win big competitions DESPITE the flubs, because the overall performance was fantastic.

      You could jest about it – that’s a nice way of breaking the tension and creating humor. But if you don’t need to jest – if no one but you noticed the flub, or if it’s small… just keep going. No one will notice if you don’t point it out!

  4. If you want to really knock a workshop or presentation out of the park
    check (way beyond begginer basics) check out Rule the Room

    Great for tough crowds too!

  5. 75%! I thought it was just my friend Nick.

    I have a friend that HATES public speaking and I used to make fun of him for it! But now that I saw that, I guess I will have to ease off a little….Nahhhh….

    I asked him, “Why do you want to become better at public speaking? You have small business and it’s an online business. So, why?”

    He said, “It pours into everything. When my company gets big, I will have to give mass training. And I also want to learn how to talk with anyone with ease…”

    I guess his right. I hate to admit it, but he’s right.

    I will have to send this post to him!



    • He’s very right. Successful behind a computer screen is great, but eventually you want to spread your wings, move beyond and tap into ALL your potential.

      Besides, nothing sucks more than having to say, “An all-expenses-paid weeklong trip to San Francisco in a 5-star hotel for an hour on the stage? Yeah, I’d love to… but I’m too scared.”

  6. I have a cousin who went through the Toast Masters program and that looked really good. There are 1000’s of groups scattered around the world and everyone goes through a well structured course that takes people from beginner to advanced. It’s also a great way to network with people who live in the same city as you do.

  7. James, this article really spoke to me.

    Truthfully, I’m scared of public speaking, and I’m a frickin’ confidence coach. My chest tightens, my palms get sweaty, I wonder what I’ll forget to say.

    Yeah. I know.

    But the truth is, real confidence is being able to chose your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour, not in the outcome. That means that you can be shaking in your boots in the face of a challenge like public speaking, but know that you’re just fine and that whatever happens, it’s all good.

    Unless you’re nervous at starting your chainsaw-juggling circus act, the likelihood of death is nil. As you say, you’re not going to die.

    Worst case scenario is that I forget a key point or get words mixed up. No biggie. In fact, I know how much I love to wing it and so if I screw up it just gives me a chance to wing things a little – something that often puts me in my element, which is when I do my best work.

    Fear of public speaking is just a thought, no more important than a thought about what you had for dinner last Thursday (it was salmon). And I’m not about to let a thought about salmon dictate what I do or don’t do…

    • Hey. Remember that you’re one up on me: You do video. 😉

      This part right here is the key, isn’t it: “Know that you’re just fine and that whatever happens, it’s all good.” We tend to create these big worst-case scenarios and scare ourselves out of doing stuff that could actually end up being a lot of fun! (Even with a salmon dinner at the end of it.)

      It reminds me of the time I was doing theater performances – had to get up on a stage full of people, act, dance and sing. All at the same time. (In French, no less!) And I’d watch the other actors completely melt down and freak out while I was yawning and watching the clock tick until it was my turn.

      Someone asked me: “Aren’t you nervous? You’ve never even done this before!”

      I shrugged. “Nah. I know I can handle it.”

      It was – I’ll admit – an odd feeling to step out on that stage. You see the dark of the room, reflective eyeglasses staring at you, music blaring, the heat of the spotlights… but you’re already doing that THING you memorized a million times before. Before you know it, you’re done!

      And it’s a lot of fun.

      Here’s an idea, though: Wouldn’t it be easier if you brought a buddy and did a double-performance? Then you’re not alone! You can bring a friend right up on stage with you and use him as your “case study” – get him asking you questions, talking to the crowd, etc. Would be fun!

  8. You’ve done a great job of encapsulating a lot of wisdom into this blog post, giving the reader permission to flub and encouragement to do his or her best. A fun little tip I use is to say to myself over and over beforehand, “You are all my friends, and I have something to share.” That helps to create a feeling of camaraderie that will carry over into your presentation. Also, if you’re nervous about making eye contact, just look at their ears. In an audience, people can’t tell the difference. Another idea is to “mask confidence,” by smiling, putting your shoulders back, and walking tall. Those actions create biofeedback for you, fooling yourself into feeling you really *are* confident. Actually, all those ideas are part and parcel of your excellent post. 🙂

  9. Thanks for this very informative blog James! I agree with this “Lacking confidence in what you know can shake up nerves easily.” It’s natural to feel nervous – it’s been ingrained in us from thousands of years of evolution where human beings needed to be accepted by their social groups in order to survive.

    I always remember this tip when I stand in front of a roomful of people –

    Never speak as if you were speaking to a group of people. Always speak to one person, then another, then another. This creates a sense of connection and intimacy.

  10. Anna Mally says:

    This was a great article! I had a presentation yesterday in one of my classes for college. If only I read this article before the presentation because…

    I knew all my information, I was completely prepared, but as I walk up there in front of the class, I completely blank out, I start sweating, voice starts cracking, and I’m shaking uncontrollably. I was suppose to be speaking for a half hour but I was only up there for seven minutes.

    It was literally the worst day of my life, and I really just wanted the entire presentation to be over.

    I even think I kept repeating myself and I couldn’t get passed the first part. I never felt this way during a presentation before, so these pointers will definitely help me with presentations in the future.
    Thank you so much!

  11. I used to give presentations to lots of military personnel. After I got out, and now going to school, I have to give presentations in class, and I still get nervous. I guess civilian people are more scary than military members. Or at least that is how I feel about it, anyways, I enjoyed reading the article and I will definitely prepare, prepare, prepare. Thanks for sharing!


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