Effective Public Speaking
Effective Public Speaking

Effective Public Speaking

Lead Author(s): George Griffin and Contributors

Student Price: Contact us to learn more

Top Hat Intro Course - Designed to teach the skills and build the confidence your students need to become effective public speakers.

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Top Hat has reimagined the textbook – one that is designed to improve student readership through interactivity, is updated by a community of collaborating professors with the newest information, and accessed online from anywhere, at anytime.

  • Top Hat Textbooks are built full of embedded videos, interactive timelines, charts, graphs, and video lessons from the authors themselves
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Key features in this textbook

Effective Public Speaking gives students the confidence and competence in preparing and presenting speeches with real student videos, a comprehensive glossary, up to five in-class activities per chapter, and a full chapter on controlling speech anxiety.
Using Bongo for Top Hat, students can practice their oral communication skills and get feedback from instructors or their peers.
Built-in assessment questions embedded throughout chapters so students can read a little, do a little, and test themselves to see what they know!

Comparison of Public Speaking Textbooks

Consider adding Top Hat’s Effective Public Speaking textbook to your upcoming course. We’ve put together a textbook comparison to make it easy for you in your upcoming evaluation.

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Hardcover print text only


Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

George Griffin, Effective Public Speaking, Only one edition needed


Stephen Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 9th Edition


Beebe & Beebe, Public Speaking Handbook, 5th Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

George Griffin, Professor of SpeechKeiser University

George Griffin earned his degrees at the University of West Florida and Auburn University. He has been teaching college, business seminars and workshops for over 30 years, while still doing public speaking engagements for non-profit organizations. Currently, he is serving as the Professor of Speech at Keiser University, Orlando, and as Adjunct Professor at Stetson University. George is also the author of “STAGE FRIGHT! A Student-Friendly Guide to Managing the Jitters.”

Contributing Authors

Wade CorneliusNew Mexico State University

Kathryn DederichsUniversity of St. Thomas

Morgan GintherInstructional Designer at Texas A & M

Luke GreenSt. Cloud Technical and Community College

María Elena BermúdezGeorgia State University

Daryle NaganoEl Camino College

Wendy YarberryFlorida State College at Jacksonville

Allen DavisIndiana University

Jasmine RobertsOhio State University

Krista MacDonaldDoña Ana Community College

Explore this textbook

Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 2: Controlling Speech Anxiety

A microphone.
Speaking in public is scary. It doesn't have to be. [1]​

“Promise me you'll always remember:
You're braver than you believe,
stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”

- Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)    

Table of Contents

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Have a better understanding of speech anxiety
  • Learn techniques that can help speech anxiety before the day of the speech
  • Learn techniques that can help speech anxiety immediately before the speech
  • Learn techniques that can be used during the speech
  • Learn techniques that can be used after the speech
  • Be able to develop your own approach to building confidence


While walking across campus one evening, I ran into a student who had taken my public speaking class two or three years earlier. We spoke for a few minutes out on the sidewalk, catching up on the last couple of years, when he asked where I was headed at that time of the evening. I told him that I was on my way to my first public speaking night class of the semester, so I was a little nervous.

“What do you mean, you’re nervous?” he asked. I explained that there was a classroom full of strangers waiting for me, in the form of new students, that I was about to meet for the first time, and that I wanted to make a good first impression on them as well as get them engaged in the new semester. He had a puzzled look on his face as he asked, “Wait, you mean that you get stage fright?” I said, “sure, of course I get stage fright, just like everyone else.” He smiled comfortingly, and said, “Well, let me tell you a few of the things I do when I’m feeling nervous, and maybe they will help you, too.

He proceeded to list three or four techniques for controlling stage fright that worked for him – techniques that were straight from the list of ideas I had given him when he took my class.

This encounter was rewarding and memorable for two reasons. First, it was reassuring to know that my student didn’t think that I experience stage fright. None of us want our audience to take notice of our nervousness, so I must have been successful at not revealing mine. But more importantly, a former student had remembered a small handful of stage fright control concepts out of the long list that I had presented to his class, and had been using them ever since. I try to give my students more techniques than they can possibly use, hoping they will find the ones that work just right for them, and then they can throw the rest out the window.

There is the possibility that while reading this chapter you will find a particular story, a student example, or a recommended technique that gives you an “Ah-ha!” moment, when suddenly you think, “That’s me! That’s what I’m doing wrong!” I hope you are able to find that one concept that makes sense for you, helps you reduce some of your excess stress, and channels your energy into effective speaking.

But more likely, understanding and mastering your stage fright will be a journey filled with trial and error. It is recommended that you read through all of the concepts and select a few that sound reasonable to you. If they don’t work, try a few more on your next speech. You may go through several different combinations of techniques before you find the right formula for you. Just remember that each of these approaches works for someone – only you will discover which ones work for you.

Demystifying Stage Fright


Changing something you had prepared to say while you are doing a presentation is a definite sign that your stage fright has gotten the best of you.





While nervousness may cause you to say things differently than you planned, changing something you’d planned to say may also indicate that you are using your audience analysis and adaptation skills.

A microphone.
Stage fright is an inadequate term to describe a real thing, but there are things you can do to combat it. [2]​

Speech instructors and authors have long known that “stage fright” is an inadequate and inaccurate description, so we have tried to find new ways to label what you are feeling. As a result, you are likely to hear such creative names as “communication anxiety,” “speech nervousness,” “communication apprehension,” “speech anxiety,” “presentation phobia,” “performance anxiety,” “speech fright,” and even “talking terror.”

For the sake of simplicity, this chapter will use the generic term “stage fright” interchangeably with nervousness, anxiety, or apprehension because it is a common phrase that a layman understands. After all, I have never had a new student tell me that they want help overcoming their “presentation phobia.”

Janelle was a quiet, soft-spoken young woman who had just finished her first talk to the class, a speech of self-introduction. Although she did well, she remained after class to confide in me that she was disappointed with her presentation.

I left out some things that I had planned to say, and I added some things that I hadn’t planned to say!

My response? “Congratulations! That means your brain was working. And you just experienced one of the benefits of stage fright.

Of course, we don’t want to forget major points in our speeches, and there are several ways to avoid that happening. But think about what Janelle actually accomplished – she had planned, written, and rehearsed her self-introduction several days in advance. She was prepared and satisfied that she had written a good talk. But in a split second, while standing in front of the class, she was able to analyze the audience and determine that some of her content should be edited. She was able to rewrite her speech, on her feet and instantaneously, and still deliver an effective presentation.

Quite an accomplishment for someone who thought she was petrified!

Let’s take some of the mystery out of stage fright by examining what it really is – and what it isn’t.


Speech anxiety is “all in your head.” You can just think it away if you try.





Stage Fright Is Not Imaginary

A girl who is visibly nervous.
Keep in mind that chances are, no matter how terrified you are, your audience won't be able to tell. [3]​

How much stage fright a speaker is experiencing can be measured in three different ways. First, we can ask the speaker to describe their level of anxiety. Much like going to the doctor with an injury and the doctor asks, “On a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?” we can ask speakers to evaluate their own nervousness. Secondly, we can ask the audience to evaluate the stage fright they perceived while watching a speaker. And third, we can scientifically monitor the physical aspects of stage fright. Don’t believe people who say that stage fright is all in your head – it’s all over your body! An electronic monitor can measure an increase in heart rate, quickened breathing, or even an increase in perspiration in order to gauge physiological changes during a stressful situation.

However, it is important to realize that there is no direct correlation between these three measurements. In other words, you might feel that your stage fright is excessive, and rate yourself an 8 out of 10, but the audience thought you were calm and relaxed, rating you a 2 out of 10, while a monitoring device may measure somewhere in between. As you develop your personal stage fright approach, remind yourself that just because you are feeling it, does not mean the audience is seeing it. Learning that you don’t look nervous can allow you to feel less nervous. 

You are Biologically Programmed to Experience Anxiety

A DNA strand.
Stage fright has a biological explanation. [4]

Have you ever seen a dog at feeding time take a mouthful of kibble, carry it across the room to eat it, and then go back for another mouthful? Ever wonder why they do that? Because it is programmed into their doggy DNA. Before dogs were pets, they hunted in packs. When the pack made a kill, if the dog wanted to eat, he needed to grab some food and take it away from the pack. He could then go back for another bite, rather than trying to fight for each bite of food in the middle of the pack. No doubt you don’t have a pack of wild dogs running through your house, but your dog still carries on this practice from instinct – the “pack mentality.”

Well, imagine you are a primordial being suddenly looking up and seeing dozens of pairs of eyes staring down at you. You are about to be attacked and become the dinner for a pack of predators. How would you react? With a racing heart? A rush of adrenaline? A twitching body ready to run for cover? Sudden perspiration? The “fight or flight” response? In other words – everything you are feeling when you step in front of the audience and see a room full of eyes staring at you. Just like your dog’s eating habits, we are programmed to respond to being looked at by a crowd. It is natural, normal, and scary. But it is also controllable.

You Want It . . . and You Need It!

Students are usually surprised and skeptical when I tell them that they get stage fright for these two reasons – you want it and you need it.

Why would you want to experience that nervousness? Consider the source – where did your stage fright come from? You weren’t instructed to have it. No one forced it upon you. No, that anxiety came from only one place – within you. In a very real sense, your brain asked your body to produce the sensations you are feeling. Your body is not in the habit of trying to undermine or sabotage your wishes. You realized that you are about to take on a task that you do not feel prepared for, and so you asked your body to provide some additional help, which your body agreed to supply in the form of increased breathing and faster blood flow to bring fresh oxygen through your body, added adrenaline for more strength, and a host of other bodily changes designed to heighten your performance. A baseball player stepping into the batter’s box will feel the energy pulsing through their body and recognize it as a positive thing. When the same thing happens before a speech, it’s also a positive thing – your body is simply responding to your request.

Why do you need stage fright? Speakers that have very low stage fright are often perceived as having very low energy invested in their speech. Well-channeled energy adds excitement, enthusiasm, and passion to a presentation. Of course, either too little or too much nervousness can reduce the effectiveness of a speech. If the speaker is overly anxious, to the point of physically showing their nervousness by dropping note cards, visibly shaking, or other nonverbal cues, the audience begins to feel uncomfortable along with the speaker and is distracted away from the message being presented.

Again, consider the baseball player analogy: the right amount of energy pumping through the batter’s body will allow them to swing faster and hit the ball harder and farther. Too much energy will cause them to swing wildly at bad pitches. The goal, therefore, is not to eliminate our stage fright completely, but to keep it in check and use it positively without letting it get the best of us. 


The most effective speakers have:


No nervousness at all


A very small amount of nervousness


A moderate amount of nervousness


A great deal of nervousness

A chart displaying the Yerkes-Dodsonlaw, in which a moderate anxiety promotes good performance, but too much or too little anxiety promotes poor performance.

The chart above contains a world of information regarding the need for a moderate amount of nervousness in your presentations. Too little anxiety and you’ll give a poor performance. You’ve probably seen speakers that just don’t seem to care. Too much anxiety and your performance drops off again. You’ve probably seen speakers so nervous that they make you nervous to be in the audience! (Think karaoke night.) But the speakers who experience a modest amount of anxiety – not too much and not too little – do the best job.

As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” There is no need to eliminate your nervousness – just learn how to resist it and master it.

In summary, stage fright is very real. It is natural. It is normal. And it is beneficial. Rather than fighting against the inevitable, we can learn to accept and embrace stage fright and use it to our advantage. Take your jitters and turn them into a positive energy source that will make you a much more powerful speaker.

As you begin to work on your first speech, you may begin to feel nervous. Rest assured, this is common, and you are not alone in feeling this way. Even professional speakers can experience feelings of anxiety before taking the stage.  Public speaking anxiety can occur at different times before, during, and even after your speech!  Here is a list of ways it can occur as well as ways to combat it. 

Anxiety Type 


Coping Method


This type of anxiety occurs before you even begin preparing your outline or gathering research sources. Just the thought of knowing you have to give a speech sometime in the near future can bring on the uneasy feelings of anticipating the moment.

Dissect your stage fright, desensitize yourself, and practice the breathing visualization methods. You can find methods for all of the above outlined in this chapter.


Preparation anxiety occurs as you begin writing your speech and gathering research material. It is caused by feeling overwhelmed with getting started and trying to determine how to structure your speech and the direction you want to go.

Start your speech early, work on it a little at a time. This will help desensitize you to preparation anxiety. Read through the, “Stop Procrastinating” section of this chapter for more information.


The night before and leading into the day of your presentation you may feel anxious. This uneasiness can increase as you drive to school, walk into class, and wait for the instructor to call you up to present. This type of anxiety can occur right before a job interview, a presentation at work, or moments before you deliver a eulogy or a wedding speech.

Reset your mind by using cognitive restructuring techniques discussed in this chapter and calm your body by employing the isometrics and visualization techniques also described in this chapter.


This is the most common type of anxiety. It is the moment when you are standing in front of your audience, sitting in the interview hot seat, or facing your supervisor and peers as you speak up in a meeting. With all eyes on you, the tension mounts and your anxiety can often reach its peak.

As noted in this chapter, emulate success, memorize your opening and closing lines in addition to practicing your speech using the information found in Chapter 11.


Once your presentation has concluded, you may anticipate your anxiety will cease. After all, the thing that was making you nervous is over. You gave your speech, finished your interview, or handed the microphone to someone else. It is common, however, to continue experiencing anxiety. After your speech, you will likely replay the presentation in your head and wince at all the moments you felt you performed poorly. This will cause your anxiety to persist.

Rejoice in your success using the ideas provided toward the end of this chapter. Remember also that becoming an effective public speaker is a process. In order to improve one must reflect constructively on their speaking experience and consider how to work at strengthening their craft.

Controlling Nervousness Well in Advance

Dissect Your Stage Fright

Click here to see the script for Video 2.01.

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Many people say they have a fear of air travel. Yet the specific cause of that fear may be one of several different sources. Some may fear the plane will go down. Others are afraid of mid-air collisions. Still others may be afraid of hijackers, running out of fuel, or even that their luggage will be lost. While these are all completely different concerns, they can all be lumped together as the “fear of air travel.”

While the general fear of public speaking is extremely common, not everyone shares the same specific fears. Rather than suffer from a vague anxiety, can you pinpoint more precisely the cause of your stage fright? The key to this technique is self-examination: What exactly are you afraid might happen? Once you’ve identified your greatest specific fears, it will be much easier to examine them, evaluate them, and address them. Some common examples are:

I’m afraid someone will ask me a question, and I won’t know the answer. If this thought is bothering you, make sure that you are fully prepared, and then remind yourself that you are the most knowledgeable person in the room on your topic. You have done extensive research. You have never been more prepared for this event than you are right now. (If any of the above is not true, then get busy with your research and preparation!) In advance, think of all the most reasonable questions that might be generated by your speech, and prepare responses. Finally, remember that there is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s a great question. I don’t have the answer to that right now, but let me look into it and I will get back to you.”

I’m afraid someone in the audience will heckle me. This is a very common thought, but a very remote possibility. We’ve all seen professional comedians engage in a verbal battle of wits using snappy comeback lines to hecklers, so we feel that we need to be prepared to do likewise. This is not something the average speaker will ever experience. Audiences in general are very friendly to the speaker. On the rare occasion when I have seen a rude listener interrupt, the speaker needed to do nothing, as the rest of the audience immediately reprimanded the heckler and encouraged the speaker to continue. The heckler always looks bad in those situations, not the speaker.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.02.

I’m afraid I will forget what I’m planning to say. This is one of the easiest fears to overcome. As you will learn by reading this book, you must carefully plan your outline for a smooth flow of ideas. Write your outline in a speaker-friendly manner, so that you can follow your planned thoughts in order. Reduce that outline down to clear speaking notes that are easy to read and understand . . . then practice!

I’m afraid people will see how nervous I am. Perhaps they will. So? They would be nervous, too, if they were in your shoes! But more likely, the audience is paying little attention to your stage fright, as they are more interested in what you are saying to them. However, if this is a concern of yours, think of all the ways you can mask any visible signs of stage fright, such as using note cards instead of sheets of paper (note cards don’t rattle in shaky hands!), balancing your weight to avoid random shuffling of your feet, taking a sip of water to avoid a dry mouth and throat, etc.

I’m afraid people will laugh at me. Again, much like the fear of hecklers, this is an extremely rare occurrence. Audiences are not inherently rude or hostile. But just to make sure this doesn’t happen, be so well prepared and rehearsed that you don’t give the audience anything to laugh about. And if something completely unexpected happens to cause a ripple of laughter in the crowd, see the humor in it and laugh along with them – after all, they are not really laughing at you, but at the situation.

I’m afraid I’m going to faint. No, you won’t. (Especially after trying some of the techniques in this chapter!)

Your own list of specific fears may be totally different from the ones above, because they are yours. Your stage fright is unique and only you can break it down into its components.

Fear of the unknown is one of the hardest fears to overcome, but shining a light into the darkness can allay many worries. As long as your stage fright remains vague and undefined, it may be very difficult to face and conquer. When you truly analyze your own personalized fear, carefully dissecting it to discover its various parts, you may find that some of your fears are rational and others are irrational. Preparing for the rational concerns, while recognizing and dismissing the irrational ones, can ease much of your nervousness.

Systematic Desensitization

A visibly frustrated man with his head in his hands in front of his laptop and papers.
Getting lots of practice can help desensitize you to the fears of public speaking.[5]​

Many beginning speakers, and many experienced speakers, for that matter, find that they need more than just a few good suggestions to control their stage fright; they need stage fright training. They get fully prepared for a speech well in advance, know their material well, rehearse standing up in front of a friend or a mirror, and even time their presentation for accuracy. By all outward appearances, they are ready. But then the moment arrives when they stand in front of the audience, look around, and a mild panic begins to set in. They feel light-headed, intimidated by the crowd, and take on that “deer-in-the-headlights” look. The most basic of skills, like the formation of words, becomes a foreign concept.

Many people have overcome common phobias such as the fear of heights, elevators, airplanes, and public speaking (technically known as glossophobia for you trivia buffs) by using the method of systematic desensitization.

In its simplest form, systematic desensitization is a step-by-step process designed to prepare you to lower the stress level when the “Big Moment” arrives and you have to actually confront the fearful situation.

Leon Powe making a free throw for the Boston Celtics in an NBA game.
Professional athletes systematically desensitize themselves, so that they are as prepared as possible for high pressure situations. [6]

If you watch the best professional basketball players on TV shoot their free throws, you will see systematic desensitization at work. Watch closely as the player steps up to the line and goes through a very methodical, practiced routine of looking at the basket, bouncing the ball a specific number of times, perhaps a knee flex or a mock shot – and watch as his body seems to relax as a calm expression comes over his face, completely tuning out the distractions around him. For that moment before taking the shot, his mind is not in the middle of an arena, but back home, in his practice gym, shooting low-pressure free throws. That ability to relax in a high-stress situation came from hours and hours of preparation.

The process begins with imagining a progression of small steps, each one a little more stressful than the first, that eventually lead you up to the moment you are dreading. For example, to overcome speaking anxiety, you might imagine the following five steps:

  • Sitting at your desk, talking to a friend sitting next to you.
  • Standing up and continuing the conversation with your friend.
  • Having another friend come join you and sitting down to listen to you talk.
  • Backing up as you speak, moving closer to the front of the classroom.
  • Giving an actual speech in class.

As you can see, each of these scenarios is some form of “speaking,” starting with the lowest stress level, a casual conversation, and morphing into the highest stress level, the speech presentation.

To begin your stage fright training, find the most comfortable, relaxing chair at home. This will be your “practice chair.” While you are alone at a quiet time, sit down and make yourself as absolutely relaxed and comfortable as you can. The goal is to sit in a tension-free position; your hands, arms, shoulders, legs, feet, back, and neck should all be at ease. Now close your eyes and imagine step one taking place. Pick a topic, and imagine a causal conversation with the person sitting next to you. Try to visualize the things you would be saying to each other as well as facial expressions and tone of voice – everything that would make the scene as realistic as possible in your mind.

At this point, stop the visualization and take a real world inventory of your body sitting in that comfortable chair. Are your hands still relaxed? Feet? Jaw? Is your body still as tension-free as it was when you first settled down to begin the exercise? If you experienced any body tension at all while doing the visualization of step one (clenching of your hands or tightening of your jaw, for example), then your practice session is over for now. Get up, go do something to take your mind off public speaking for a while, then come back and try the experiment again later.

However, if you successfully went through the entire visualization without creating any tension in your body at all, congratulations, you are ready to go to step two!

Again, fully relax your body and close your eyes. Envision yourself sitting in the classroom carrying on that same conversation, but this time you stand up to talk while your friend remains seated. In your visualization you are fully familiar with the topic of discussion and comfortable talking about it. Your friend smiles, and acknowledges your comments. You feel confident.

Time to stop and do another body tension inventory. Are you still completely relaxed and at ease in the chair? If not, if you notice any increase in stress, stop and take a break. When you come back to do your next systematic desensitization session, start again with step one and work your way up the steps in order. If you are still tension-free, move on to envisioning step three.

Each time you sit down to do your personal training session, start at the beginning of the steps and slowly work your way up until you reach a level where you experience tension. Stop when tension is noticed, continue if there isn’t any. Visualize each step in graphic detail to make the experience seem as realistic as possible. One suggestion would be to use your actual public speaking classroom and a real classmate for each visualization. When you get to step five, use one of your actual class presentation topics.

Eventually (and it might take weeks of practice), you will be able to sit down quietly and visualize all five steps without creating any tension or anxiety. Then you are ready to put your new technique to use in front of an audience. Just like the basketball player who imagines himself in his home gym to shoot free throws, you can step up to speak to the crowd remembering that serenity of sitting in your chair and living this moment in a relaxed, confident manner.

Don’t expect miracles; you will still experience nervousness, although to a much lesser degree. However, this method can help you turn your “glossophobia” into plain old-fashioned (but manageable) stage fright.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.03.

Earn Your Confidence

A child in a homemade super hero costume.
Preparation will give you confidence. [7]

Back in the 1700’s, American philosopher and orator Wayne Burgraff advised, “It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time,” and that is still good advice today.

Surprisingly, most of the students who ask for help with their nervousness haven’t even started to prepare their speeches. Worrying about stage fright before you’ve prepared the speech is premature, but many students allow those early pangs of nervousness to keep them from beginning the actual work. When it comes to the time you allocate to preparing, remember that worrying about your speech is not preparation! Working on your speech is. Once you have done the following:

  • Selected your topic
  • Researched your topic
  • Prepared your outline
  • Prepared your speech notes
  • Rehearsed your presentation

you’ll be amazed at how much your stress will be reduced. At the risk of sounding rude, if you are not prepared, you will be nervous because you deserve to be nervous. Author and lecturer Dale Carnegie wrote, “One great lesson stands out like Mt. Everest, towering above all the others: only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.” Even Abraham Lincoln recognized, “I believe I shall never be old enough to speak without embarrassment when I have nothing to talk about.

When you are finally ready to say, “I’m fully prepared,” you’ll find that you have earned the right to be confident and your anxiety will turn into eagerness.


One suggestion to control nervousness is to delay starting to write the speech. Once you are totally comfortable with what you will be speaking about, the speechwriting will come easier.





Stop Procrastinating!

An eraser imprinted with the word
Don't procrastinate! It will lead you to be under-prepared, which will lead to anxiety. [7]​

For most people, the hardest part of any task, from painting a house to writing a novel, is just getting started. You may have heard the expression “paralysis by analysis.” This simply refers to the habit of spending so much time contemplating what to do that we never start doing anything!

This is a common problem with beginning speech students. Most likely your professor provided you with a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, and the course outline advised you well in advance of all the major speaking assignments that you are expected to do during the class. The typical reaction is to look ahead at the upcoming assignments, but not to make any decisions about them until later. Then, when the speech is due in a week or less, we start to panic because we aren’t ready – in fact, we haven’t even started getting ready.

In general, speakers who have a high level of confidence about their speeches start preparing earlier, while the speakers with a low level of confidence tend to procrastinate more. As you can probably see, both approaches feed themselves. The confident speakers jump right in, and as they do more and more preparation their confidence level increases. However, the less confident speakers fret longer and delay getting started, so as each day passes the deadline is closer but they are still unprepared, as if ignoring it will make it go away.

This vicious cycle (“I’m nervous because I’m unprepared, but I’m not preparing because I’m nervous”) is obviously self-perpetuating and only gets worse with each passing day. Nonetheless, irrational emotions can be powerful, and sometimes they overrule a sensible brain.

There is really only one way to break out of this cycle: put your brain in charge and utilize your time management skills. Pull out your course syllabus and look at your upcoming speeches. Set a self-imposed deadline for topic selection, followed by blocking out the days and hours that you will devote to research, and determine exactly when you will have your outline completed. If you keep an appointment calendar, write down your firm timeline and stick to it as diligently as you would a class schedule.

By disciplining yourself to just get started, you can get out of the defeatist, self-destructive pattern and into the confidence-building cycle.

Create Your Private “Fantasy Star” Moment

A crowd at a concert.
One technique to conquer stage fright is to picture yourself as a star. [8]​

One of the common suggestions for relaxing in a tense situation is to imagine yourself in a very serene setting, such as soaking in a hot tub or sitting on a grassy hillside, listening to chirping birds and a babbling brook in the distance. The following recommendation, however, is the exact opposite.

While putting yourself into that imaginary babbling-brook scenario might help you relax, it doesn’t prepare you for stepping up in front of an audience. In fact, the contrast between your imagined scene and reality can be quite jarring. With the Fantasy Star technique, you imagine a scene in which you are the center of attention of a large crowd. You are in the spotlight, all eyes are on you – and it’s good. Then visit that fantasy scene in your mind in those few minutes just before standing to deliver a speech. The scene could be completely fictitious or it could be a remembered event from your life.

When my son was ten years old, he played in a junior YMCA basketball league. His team was not very good and neither was his coach (me). During a game late into their winless season, the team was only two points behind as we neared the end of the game. The team started making mistakes, panicking at the possibility of actually winning for a change. As the clock ticked down, the ball was thrown to my son as his team shouted for him to shoot. In desperation, he released a long three-point shot and was stunned as it swished through the basket. The rest of his teammates literally picked him up and carried him off the court in celebration. There was nothing for my son to do but smile and enjoy the attention, feeling as if he were LeBron James winning the NBA finals.

Virtually every kid who has ever bounced a basketball in a driveway has imagined what that “LeBron moment” must feel like. But whether or not you have ever enjoyed such a moment in real life is not important. Create a fantasy moment in which you are the star. Maybe you have never scored the winning touchdown, or hit the game-winning home run, but you can still imagine what it would feel like. It is a moment of pure adulation and all you can do is soak it in.

You can imagine yourself smiling as you step forward to say a few words to the adoring crowd. Forget that babbling brook stuff, now you are a hero, about to speak to your fans. Now you are ready to deliver a speech!

Whatever your personal star fantasy might be, whether it is in the area of sports, music, acting, or politics, visualize a detailed, tangible scene. Make it as real as possible, and act it out in your mind so you can remember every detail. Then, as you are being introduced to the audience or waiting for your turn to speak, visit that scene and live that moment. This is a great way to take that natural adrenaline rush that you will be feeling and re-channel it into positive energy. Of course you’re ready to give a great speech to the crowd – you’re a star!

Cognitive Restructuring

This is the process of taking all those negative thoughts about your speech that are going through your head and deliberately replacing them with positive thoughts. Overcoming a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit is never easy. It takes a conscientious effort on your part to systematically identify all those deep-down nasty, unproductive ideas and come up with creative, reinforcing positive statements to take their place. 

Examples of negative thinking versus positive thinking. If you are thinking

Click here to see the script for Video 2.04.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.05.

In a way, this is like giving yourself a mental pep talk, by deliberately replacing all the negative internal statements about your speech and your speaking abilities with positive ones – using positive self-suggestion to help overcome your nervousness.

Accept and Embrace your Anxiety as Excitement

As you study and learn more about public speaking, the more you will come to realize that words really do matter – including the words you say to yourself. Many self-help guides, for example, have recognized that you can change your outlook on your responsibilities by exchanging two little words: replace “have to” with “get to.” Instead of saying, “I have to take my kid brother out for pizza,” replace it with, “I get to take my kid brother out for pizza.” Instead of, “I have to take a class in accounting,” think of saying, “I get to take a class in accounting.” And of course, instead of thinking, “I have to give a speech in class next week,” Consider how much more positive it sounds and feels to say, “I get to give a speech in class next week.”

Along those lines, the words you use to describe your speech anxiety to yourself can measurably affect your performance. We often tell ourselves, and others, that we just need to “calm down,” as if there is something wrong with us that needs correcting. Then when we don’t succeed at calming down, it makes us even more nervous.

Well, what if instead of telling ourselves to calm down, we recognize that not only is it normal to be excited, it’s great! Research at Harvard Business School has shown that saying three little words to yourself can alter your viewpoint as well as your success rate. The three words? “I am excited.”

Rather than telling ourselves, “I am scared,” “I am nervous,” “I need to take a deep breath and relax,” or some other negative portrayal of what we are feeling, the simple acknowledgement that “I am excited” can be as game-changing as thinking “ get to” instead of “I have to.

I am excited” recognizes all the things happening in your body – your heart beat increases, your adrenaline is pumping, your cortisol is high -  but it doesn’t treat these as threats to your well-being. You don’t need to “fix” the fact that your arousal is high. Instead, you can accept your excitement as an opportunity to excel. 

Sounds kind of corny?  Smiley faces and unicorns? Too good to be true? But guess what – it works. The researchers at Harvard tried experiments in three different challenges where people experience a lot of anxiety: taking a math quiz, singing karaoke, and of course, giving a speech. In each experiment, using between 113 and 180 student participants, half the subjects were instructed to simply tell themselves, “I am excited” before trying the activity. The other half were assigned to tell themselves, “I am calm.” Through purely objective measurements, the ones who told themselves that they were excited did 17% better at singing, 17% better in their speeches, and an amazing 22% better on their math quiz.

Specifically, in the public speaking experiment, the subjects were college students, all around 20 years old. They were told to prepare a speech between two and three minutes on the topic “why you are a good work partner.” The judges of the speeches had no idea who the “excited” participants or the “calm” participants were. But the evaluations ranked the “excited” speakers better at persuasiveness, competence, confidence and persistence. In fact, the “excited” speakers even talked longer!

So rather than try to fix your excited state, why not accept and embrace it? Repeat to yourself, “I am excited” that I “get to” give a speech.  It works!

Memorize Your Opening and Closing Lines

You step to the front of the room, and everyone in the audience is looking at you. You feel your palms begin to sweat, your heart begins to pound, your knees begin to wobble and your mouth feels suddenly dry – and you are supposed to begin speaking eloquently? How?!

The key is to anticipate what that moment is going to feel like in advance, and prepare for it. There are two parts of your presentation that you should have completely committed to memory both for effectiveness and for stage fright control – the opening and closing lines.

Stage fright comes in waves. The biggest surge of nervousness comes just as you are about to begin your speech. But once you begin, the stage fright begins to ease within the first 30 to 60 seconds. So the task is to control or hide the jitters until your body and mind begin to calm down. An excellent way to do this is to memorize the opening lines so thoroughly that you can say them even if your brain freezes and you have to begin the speech on “auto-pilot.”

Click here to see the script for Video 2.06.

This approach plays off the self-feeding nature of both stage fright and confidence; if you look nervous to the audience, they will perceive you that way, which only makes you feel more nervous. However, if you can project confidence to the audience you will be perceived that way, which in turn makes you feel more confident. As you work your way through those first few moments with this confident demeanor, the stage fright will begin to dissipate at about the same time that you will be going into the more extemporaneous portion of your speech.

Then, much like runners experience an extra burst of adrenaline when they see the finish line is up ahead, you will feel a second surge of stage fright as the conclusion comes near. However, if you have your closing lines completely memorized, you can mentally reassure yourself that you are about to enter a “comfort zone” as you deliver those thoroughly rehearsed lines. The worry is over at this point, as you know exactly what you are going to say next.

A word of caution: do not assume that if memorizing the opening and closing lines builds confidence you should memorize the entire text to control nervousness throughout the speech. As you will learn in Chapter 11, attempting to memorize an entire speech puts a lot more pressure on you.

The added benefit of memorizing the opening and closing lines is that your lasting impression on an audience is often based on the first and last things you say. (See the Primacy Effect and Recency Effect in Chapter 4.) If you are impressive as you begin your speech and equally impressive as you close, the audience’s memory of your speech will be positive.

If you start strong and end strong, your overall effectiveness, your belief in yourself and your reputation as a more polished speaker will all benefit.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

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One great way to keep your speech fresh and your confidence high is to prepare your final speaking notes right before you actually deliver the speech.





My daughter took piano lessons when she was just a tyke. This led to the inevitable piano recitals – where each child in the class plays a couple of the simple tunes they have learned for an audience of parents, grandparents, and siblings. One particular recital was held in a large theater with an imposing grand piano placed center stage. About fifteen students were to perform, so the audience was easily fifty or sixty people who were all eager to applaud for their favorite pianist.

As I sat with my daughter awaiting her turn to play, I was a nervous wreck; she appeared completely calm. Foolishly, I leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t you nervous?” She looked puzzled and whispered back, “About what?” Determined that she had to be as anxious as I was, I answered, “About getting up in front of all these people and playing your songs!” She shrugged with genuine childlike indifference and said, “They’re the same two songs I’ve been playing every day at home, Dad.”

With a child’s logic, she understood that she was in complete control of the situation because of her practice – no one was going to undermine her by changing the sheet music or rearranging the piano keys when she wasn’t looking. How I wish I could bottle that attitude and give a sip to each of my public speaking students! Wouldn’t it be great to take that approach on speech day, “Hey, it’s the same speech I’ve been practicing in my room for the last few days.

Too often, students spend so much time preparing, writing, and tweaking their speech up until the last minute that they neglect to do the most important part – practice. Once the speech is completely written, their logical mind tells them that they are finished and ready, but that sense of jitters in the stomach is trying to warn them, “No, you are not!

We recognize the need for practice in so many other areas, but not our speeches. A musician or singer would never consider standing up to perform after simply reading the sheet music without rehearsal. The best college athletes would be kept on the bench by the coach if they decided not to participate in practice. And yet, inevitably, students are still writing their speeches the day before, or even the day of, the presentation, and are asking for help in overcoming their stage fright.

The solution is simple. Get the complete speech prepared, from the opening line to the conclusion, well in advance. The title of this section, “practice, practice, practice” may seem redundant, but ideally your speech should be practiced, start to finish, five to seven times out loud, standing up, and preferably with a listener. Five to seven times is not enough to fully memorize your speech (a delivery mode that is not recommended), but it is enough to become completely familiar with all of the content.

As you will read in Chapter 11, some speakers practice by recording their speeches to see how they sound, to hear what parts work or don’t work, and make minor changes to the outline or wording. Some speakers find that practicing their presentation in a full-length mirror is beneficial. Others will find a supportive roommate, friend, or family member who is willing to listen and evaluate. One recommendation is to find a partner in your speech class, someone who is going through the same struggles you are, and arrange to meet prior to the presentations to practice with one another. If logistically possible, you might want to schedule your rehearsal in the same classroom where your speech will be given, which will make you all the more comfortable on presentation day.

The simple act of saying your speech out loud to a listener will help you refine some of your favorite phrases to make sure your thoughts are as understandable as possible. But almost more important is the sense of familiarity you will have with your speech; the more you know your message, the less you will fumble for words in front of the audience, and the more confident you will feel and appear.

Whether you get your best results rehearsing in front of a video recorder, a mirror, a roommate, a classmate, your dog, or just driving around alone saying your speech out loud in the car, practice is an essential part of controlling stage fright.


Ideally, how many times should you practice your speech in order to feel comfortable with presenting it?


Once or twice should be sufficient


Three or four times is fine


Five to seven times will make you totally familiar with it


As many times as it takes to totally memorize the script

Controlling Nervousness Before You Speak

Once you’ve got your mind set and your speech prepared, there are some last-minute suggestions of things to overcome mental and physical tension before you step to the front of the room.


There are many little techniques you can adopt to help yourself relax. [9]​

There are many techniques for preparing your body for a speech in order to be as tension free as possible. Many students have recommended that before they come to class on speech day, they may practice meditation, yoga, tai chi, biofeedback and even self-hypnosis. Any of these practices can help your body relax before you arrive at your speaking event.

One of the simplest techniques, which can be done virtually any time right up until you walk to the lectern, is isometric exercises. Isometric exercises help the body relax by actually creating tension and then releasing it. For example, while sitting at your desk, reach down with one hand and grab the seat of your chair. Pull up as if trying to lift the chair while still sitting in it. Hold that tension for a count of five to ten seconds and then release. Feel that limpness? This simple act can help reduce muscle tension from your hands and through your arms.

While sitting in the classroom before your speech, try this simple, unobtrusive method for creating and releasing tension: sit straight in your chair, with both feet flat on the floor. Scrunch up your toes, as if you are trying to make fists with your feet. Hold that position for several seconds – and then release. Next, keep your heels on the floor and point your toes up, stretching your ankle and calf muscles. Again, hold the position for a few seconds and release. Slowly work all the way up your body – calves, thighs, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, etc. – creating and then releasing the tension as you go. While sitting at your desk, waiting your turn to speak, you can systematically relax your entire body in this method without drawing attention to yourself. (This is also a recommended technique for people suffering from insomnia, or trying to get to sleep the night before their upcoming speech! By systematically working your way up from your toes to your forehead, you might just find that you are asleep before you get halfway through the routine.)

The Power of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is one of the most common and successful techniques for relaxing whenever you are feeling stressed or panicky, but it is especially helpful immediately before starting your speech.

Whether you are just thinking about your speech, doing research, writing or rehearsing, from time to time you can feel your heart starting to race as you envision the actual presentation. What you may not realize is that as your heart rate changes, so does your breathing pattern. When we are nervous, we tend to take short, shallow breaths rather than inhaling deeply. In the extreme, this can lead to hyperventilation, or “over-breathing,” which can actually cause you to feel breathless. At those moments, take a break. Close your eyes and do some slow deep breathing as a corrective measure and you will feel your body start to calm down and relax a bit.

For most folks, though, stage fright is at its absolute worst the moment it is time to actually begin the speech. When people get frightened or anxious, they often begin to hold their breath without realizing it. This is usually evidenced in beginning speakers as they speak more rapidly than usual, trying to say as much as possible before running out of air, then stopping suddenly and taking big gulps of air in order to continue. As you pursue the study of public speaking beyond the basics, you will probably learn how proper breath control techniques can improve your performance, but for now, the idea of helping your body relax is more important.

In almost every speaking situation, you will have a “two-minute warning” before it is time for you to begin. Maybe it is the conclusion of the speaker before you. Or perhaps it is someone introducing you to the audience. When that two-minute warning begins, start your slow deep breathing exercises.

Breathe deeply, using your diaphragm. This is sometimes referred to as “stomach breathing” because your stomach expands with each breath rather than just your chest. Observe the breathing pattern of a sleeping baby to see how natural, relaxing and instinctive this method really is.

Start inhaling through your nose, deeply filling your lungs as you slowly count to five – one thousand one, one thousand two…. Then just as slowly, exhale through your mouth as you count. Some speech experts recommend, rather than counting, that you develop your own personal mantra to repeat in your mind when you do this technique, such as “Relax” (“R-e-e-e (inhale), L-a-a-a-x (exhale),”) or “Calm … Down,” or any similar, reassuring two-syllable phrase to reinforce the purpose of the exercise. This process should be slow and natural, not drawing attention from those around you. When you stand to speak, you can take one or two more deep breaths during the pause before you begin to talk, so that you have plenty of air. Remember, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Think “smell the flowers – blow out the candles.”

If you find yourself running short of breath or if you feel that short, shallow style of breathing returning during your speech, there is nothing wrong with stopping periodically during your speech to take an additional deep breath. While stopping for a breath feels like an eternity of silence to the beginning speaker, it appears perfectly natural to your audience – your listeners know you are human and need to breathe!

The occasional pause for breath control will help with the smoothness of your delivery; the combination of the more controlled delivery and the positive effects of the relaxation technique will help reassure you that you are in command in front of the audience.

Visualize Success

Oftentimes we plant ideas, both positive and negative, into our minds. The more we believe those ideas, the more likely they are to come true.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.07.

I have seen many speakers over the years convince themselves that something will go wrong during a speech. For example, a speaker may say, “I’m going to mix up my note cards and get them all out of order!” Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t remember that introduction!” You can guess what happens when these speakers step in front of the class – they have reinforced the negative concepts so strongly in their mind that they have guaranteed that they will mix up their note cards and will not be able to remember the introduction.

But just as we can talk ourselves into having problems with our speeches, we can also talk ourselves into success. What do you envision when you imagine yourself speaking to an audience? Do you visualize things going well or going poorly? There is an old cliché, “Whether you think you can or can’t, either way you are right.”

Each time you think about your speech and each time you practice, you need to reinforce the idea that the presentation will go well. One recommendation is to mentally walk yourself through the day of the speech, starting from the time you wake up until the time you have completed your presentation. Visualize something like this:

Your alarm goes off in the morning and you stretch, realizing you are fully rested after a good night’s sleep. As you begin to get ready for the day, not rushing, you look for your favorite outfit – the one that you just feel good wearing – and find that it is clean and ready to put on. You leave your room and decide to have a relaxed breakfast with friends before going to class. When you get to your first class of the day, everyone is in a good mood, including the professor. The class is actually fun. Now you head to your public speaking class where you are scheduled to give a presentation. When you arrive, you meet with some friends in class and share a laugh. Everyone seems to be relaxed; no one is particularly stressed about today’s assignment. Then class begins, and you take your seat fully prepared and confident that you will do a good job. Soon it is your turn to speak. You stand and as you walk to the front of the room with note cards in hand, you are recalling what your opening lines will be. You pause, look around the room for a moment, and then begin your introduction smoothly.

As you rehearse the speech, actually visualize the listeners. Imagine their facial expressions as they listen to you – they are fully paying attention to your talk, looking concerned when they should, and laughing at all the right spots. As you deliver your key points, your voice is clear and controlled. You are maintaining strong eye contact with the listeners, occasionally glancing down at your notes as needed to keep to your outline. As your conclusion approaches, you feel an extra surge of energy because you know this is a strong, powerful closing. You deliver that final sentence solidly, and after a brief moment, the class begins to applaud. You walk back to your desk satisfied, knowing that your presentation was appreciated by the class.

Each time you practice you should be visualizing a successful performance. If you have embedded those predictions of success in your mind that often, why would you expect anything else to happen when it comes time to do the actual speech?

Aim for success, not perfection. [10]​

It is important to visualize success, but not perfection. In all the years that I have been teaching and all the years that I have been speaking, I have never seen nor given a perfect speech; there will always be a way to improve upon your presentation, and there is a good possibility that some minor thing might go wrong from time to time. If you strive for perfection, you are putting unnecessary stress on yourself and setting yourself up for disappointment, since you will never be 100 percent satisfied with your performance. Rather, envision that the speech goes well and is well-received.

Visualizing success can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Talk yourself into success instead of failure. To paraphrase that old cliché, whether you think it is going to be a good speech or a bad speech, either way you are right.

Emulate Success

Occasionally, successful actors have difficulty deciding how to get into a character to play a particular role. One approach is the technique of emulation, in which an actor thinks of all the great performers they have seen over the years and chooses the one that they believe would be perfect to play this part. They then visualize that actor playing the role, and perform the part in that character. They don’t imitate or impersonate the other actor, but rather emulate them as a way of channeling the acting style. Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) has often been teased about using Jack Nicholson’s acting style. Will Smith admits that the first time he had to play an “action hero,” he studied Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars. Even in the classic sitcom, Seinfeld, Jason Alexander acknowledges that he played the first season as if he were Woody Allen, and after that he started emulating Larry David.

Now that you have begun studying effective speechmaking, you have undoubtedly become much more aware of the differences between effective and ineffective speakers. After a while, you will unconsciously start noticing different speaking techniques as you watch and listen to other speakers. You will notice things that work well, and other things that detract from presentations.

One helpful practice you can use during your public speaking class is to make notes on all the other students as they give their speeches, specifically noting two things: (1) what does each speaker do well; and (2) what does each speaker do poorly. Make a note of all the positive things that you observe, and consider whether or not you could apply those things in your next speech. Conversely, when you notice negative behavior, make a mental note not to do those things when it is your turn to speak.

Every class has one or two “stars” that seem to have natural abilities that make it look easy to give a speech. If you ask them about stage fright, you might be surprised to learn that they experience it every bit as much as you do, but their speaking styles don’t reveal the anxiety. As you watch them speak, look at all the things they do that make them appear confident and in full control. Can you apply those observable techniques to your style?

Look outside the classroom to other speakers you hear on a regular basis. At the risk of making your speech professor paranoid, how effective is their lecture style? Perhaps by watching the speech skills being utilized during the lecture there are things you can learn beyond the actual lecture content. Consider your other favorite professors; what makes their presentation style so successful? Watch closely next time to see exactly what they are doing that works so well, both physically and vocally.

A friend of mine, Gary, is a very successful attorney. I have watched him make impassioned pleas to judges and juries, but he always uses a calm, rational, measured speaking style that never sounds emotional. He never raises his voice or flails his arms, but rather uses a confident matter-of-fact approach that is quite persuasive in the courtroom. At times, when I need to speak to a school board or a county council meeting, for example, I will think, “How would Gary present this?” And I take on that calm, rational delivery style that seems more appropriate for that venue.

When it is your time to rise and speak, visualize a successful, confident speaker that you admire – a professor, a professional speaker, or even that “star” in your class. Ask yourself, “How would so-and-so do this speech,” and channel that speaking style. In a way, steal from the best!

Realize there is a great difference between emulating and imitating someone. You may admire Martin Luther King, Jr. as a powerful speaker, but you do not want to finish a speech and have someone comment, “Wow, you sounded just like Martin Luther King!” You are not trying to do an imitation, but rather to develop your own personal speaking style by incorporating the successes of others.

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Minimize Your Notes

Notes are great, but using them as a crutch can lead to even more anxiety. [11]​

Having notes during a speech is perfectly acceptable. Speakers ranging from Bill Gates to Barack Obama have been observed glancing at 3 X 5 note cards offstage, then tucking them away before stepping out to deliver an “impromptu” speech. But many student speakers make the false assumption that if a few notes are good, more notes are even better – “If I’m going to have a safety net, I want a big safety net!” In truth, the more notes you use during a presentation, the more nervous you can feel. It may lead you to make an extra effort to cover every word you wrote down on your note cards, which only adds pressure and stress to you during the presentation. That dependence on your notes also hinders your eye contact and your audience interaction. You are much more relaxed when you speak naturally, allowing your brain to choose the exact words to use while you are speaking rather than obsessively sticking to a prepared script.

For a full-length presentation, prepare your speech as you normally would, whether it is in a working script format or a full-sentence outline. Rehearse the speech once to make sure it flows well. Then render your script or your practice notes down to a key-word-only outline, and rehearse it again. Each time you rehearse, cross out any words that you discover are unnecessary. After a few practice sessions, you will find that you can deliver the entire speech with a minimum of notes. Rewrite your note cards one last time, including only the absolutely essential words, and you are now ready to present.

But beware of falling victim to the opposite temptation – “If delivering my speech with only a few words on my note cards is the goal, it would be even better to deliver it without notes at all!” Trying to deliver your speech completely from memory will again put more pressure on you to remember your speech, building back up the nervousness that the notes help alleviate. A good comfort zone is to have a minimum of notes in place just in case you need them. If you find that you deliver the entire speech without looking down at your notes at all, congratulations. But knowing that they are there, just in case, can keep the stress level lower.

The one exception to the “minimal notes” rule is the citing of evidence in your speech, or providing your audience with exact quotes or specific statistics, for example. Rather than incorporating evidence into your speech notes, create a separate note card for the evidence to be cited. When you come to that part of your speech in the actual delivery, it is perfectly acceptable to rely on that evidence card to make sure you present the information accurately. Visually and aurally, the audience will recognize the difference between when you are speaking your own words and when you are reading the evidence. Not only is this common practice, but it conveys to the audience that you respect them enough to offer the quotes precisely rather than paraphrasing.

To sum up, too many notes can add stress. No notes can add stress. The most difficult aspect of reaching the balance of minimized notes is learning to trust yourself, knowing that you are able to deliver an effective speech while thinking on your feet with the fewest possible words for reminders. The progressive reduction of notes during rehearsal will help you achieve that self-confidence.  


What is the one exception to the “Use minimal notes” rule?


Use more notes if you are afraid you will forget your speech


Use a script if you are afraid of making eye contact with your audience


Prepare a handful of notes to impress the audience that you are totally prepared


Write out exact quotes or statistics from your research to read to your audience

Write Private Notes to Yourself

In her book A Fighting Chance, Senator Elizabeth Warren tells about how nervous she was the first time she took part in a political debate. In order to relax just a bit behind the lectern, she had among her notes a picture of her and her grandkids on vacation together, smiling and wearing matching t-shirts. When she looked down and saw that picture, it helped with her nervousness.

This is an important concept – that you can write personalized messages to yourself, highlighted notes on your cards that are meant for you alone to help you deal with stage fright during the presentation.

Speakers usually know their shortcomings while delivering a speech, but often realize afterward, while re-evaluating their performance, that once again they did the same old thing they were trying to correct. Your professor doesn’t want to be rude by interrupting your presentation with suggested improvements, so you learn while reading or hearing your critique, after the fact, about your repeated flaws. If only someone had reminded you during the speech! It is not unusual for a friend in the audience to try to catch a speaker’s eye to gesture or mouth out helpful suggestions, but that can be quite distracting to a speaker trying to decipher a silent message. However, your speech notes can be the perfect vehicle for those mid-speech hints and cues.

Perhaps when you give a speech you have a tendency to talk too fast. Write a note that simply says, “Slow Down!” If while rehearsing your speech with a friend, you are told that you are looking tense, write a note to “Smile!” Any number of self-prompts can be beneficial, such as, “Stop Pacing!” “Stop Saying Y’Know!” Or even just “Breathe!

The notes don’t need to be simply of a corrective nature, or course; sometimes just the right message can help you relax and adjust your frame of mind. Whatever reminders you think would be beneficial to you during the actual presentation can be prepared in advance and inserted strategically into your notes.

Dana was a particularly shy student but always seemed composed during her speeches. Her secret was that during every speech, she included one note card with no words – just a photograph of a single yellow rose taped to the card. She looked embarrassed as she privately explained the significance to me. She and her boyfriend shared a small apartment and a beat-up old car, both working part time, and both struggling to take their college classes. One afternoon, as Dana was getting ready for work, they had an argument which ended with her shouting, “If you really loved me, you’d bring me roses sometimes!” Then she slammed the door and left. 

Pick something personal for you that helps you relax.

She immediately felt guilty for the unfair outburst, knowing they couldn’t afford such luxuries, and she couldn’t wait to get home to apologize. Hours later, when she walked into the apartment after work, she found that while she was away her boyfriend had searched the internet for “roses,” and had printed up every picture he found – single roses, rose buds, bouquets, even blooming rose bushes – and had taped the pictures on all of the walls of their tiny living room. She was surrounded with roses! I asked her how it felt when she first walked into the apartment, and she said, “Like I was the most important person in the world. It was warm, gentle, comforting, and I felt totally loved.”

No wonder including a note card with one of the rose pictures helped her relax during her speeches. What personalized message would help you?

Controlling Nervousness While You Speak

Concentrate on Communicating

What is the uppermost thing in your mind when you step up to give a speech? If it is “Oh my god, everybody’s looking at me,” or “I can’t believe I’m standing up here,” then yes, you will undoubtedly be nervous.

But if your primary focus is on communicating and making sure that the audience understands what you are trying to say, your stage fright will automatically take a back seat. If you are analyzing the audience, evaluating your words and delivery, trying to ensure that everyone gets your message, all that extra energy that your body has produced will push you forward, adding emphasis and passion to your presentation rather than holding you back.

Emily was a second-semester sophomore at a community college; one more semester, and she would have her A.A. degree and transfer to a state university. The only problem was that her major required her to take a public speaking course and she was terrified of giving a speech. She actually told her advisor that she was preparing to drop out of college rather than take a speech class.

I agreed to allow Emily to audit my class for a few sessions to determine if she could successfully take the course. After a trial period of a week or so, she hesitantly registered for the class. The semester progressed well despite her obvious struggle with stage fright. However, at the end of the semester, Emily had to face her biggest challenge. The final speaking assignment was a one-on-one debate, and unfortunately, there was no other student available to debate against her. Shy, timid Emily, the young lady who would rather quit school than speak in public, would have to debate her professor for her final assignment.

The topic of our debate was abortion. Unknown to me, Emily’s best friend had been struggling with the decision of whether or not to have the procedure, so this was a touchy, emotion-filled topic for her. I spoke first in the debate and made some stock arguments on the issue. But considering how sensitive she was to the subject at the time, something I said struck Emily the wrong way.

When she rose to speak she glared at me, then turned to the class and forcefully declared, “Don’t you believe a damn word that man just said. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about! Let me tell you the way it really is...” She then proceeded to powerfully tear my arguments apart while the entire class stared, stunned and slack-jawed. She jabbed her finger at me and the audience to accentuate points, pounded her fist on the lectern, and demonstrated true passion in her voice.

Was she still experiencing stage fright? Certainly. But for the first time in her life, she was not concerned about all the people looking at her; rather she was consumed with the importance of getting her message across to everyone who would listen. We could almost sense the extra energy standing behind her, pushing her forward, saying “Go get ‘em, Emily!” For the first time, she was concentrating on communicating and not on her inherent fears.

Of course, I am not recommending that you verbally attack your professor in your final speaking assignment! But, just like Emily, when you step up in front of the class, can you take the focus off of yourself and place the emphasis on the message? If so, you will find your energy level is still high but it will be channeled in a positive direction rather than working against you.


Describe in your own words what “concentrate on communicating” means.

Fake It 'til You Make It!

Sometimes, pretending that you are feeling confident can lead to actual confidence. We have the ability to fake our way through many situations. For example, have you ever been in a bad mood but didn’t really want to talk about what was bothering you? One way to avoid the discussion is to pretend that nothing is wrong as you talk to your friends. By acting cheerful when you’re really not, you can inadvertently work yourself out of that bad mood without really trying.

Athletes are well aware of the concept of “putting on your game face.” When a football player gets set at the line of scrimmage, he may be facing someone twice his size and built like a truck. But he puts on his “game face,” which sends the message, “You don’t intimidate me. I’m not afraid of you. In fact, when the ball is snapped I’m going to knock you down and take your lunch money!” And sometimes, it really works despite the fact that he’s actually trembling inside.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – sometimes, your professor is really not in the mood to get up and enthusiastically teach your class! I’ve had days that begin at 6:00 a.m. that are filled with stress, family issues, faculty hassles, and a host of other distractions that are still on my mind when I arrive to teach a three-hour night class at 6:00 p.m. It’s already been a long day and I’m tired and would love to just go home, put my feet up and relax. (I know what you’re thinking - “Cancel class! We won’t mind!”) But no, I have a room full of students waiting for me and an obligation to them and the school. So I stop for a moment, put on my game face, and walk in with as much energy as I can muster. And sure enough, after a few minutes of interacting with the class, that energy becomes real and I forget all the other issues of the day until the class is over.

The concept of “fake it ‘til you make it” works similarly when you need to control your stage fright during a speech. Imagine you are acting in a school play, and you have been cast in the role of a confident person that speaks with authority, such as a successful politician or a tent-revival preacher. Even though you’d surely have stage fright walking out in front of the theater audience, how would you play the part?

Pretend you are feeling confident during your speech. How would a confident person walk to the front of the room? Walk up that way. What would a confident person’s posture look like? Stand that way. How would a confident person begin their speech? Begin that way. How would a confident person walk and gesture? Walk and gesture that way. How would a confident person sound? Sound that way.

As you deliver your speech pretending to be confident, you will find that the audience accepts that you are confidently in control of the situation. You will be getting encouraging attention from your listeners, which in turn will feed your confidence level. When you start thinking, “Hey, I’m pulling this off!” you’ll relax and realize that this technique really works!

Most Stage Fright Is Unnoticed, Unless . . .

Sam hated the idea of taking a required public speaking course and put it off as long as he could. Eventually he surrendered and enrolled in the class, but immediately let everyone in the room know that he wasn’t happy about being there. His first time to stand in front of the class to introduce himself to the group, he revealed the source of his reluctance when he blurted out, “Y’know why I hate giving speeches? Because I blush! I turn bright red. It starts at my neck and works its way up until my whole face is red. It’s just embarrassing.”

Click here to see the script for Video 2.08.

Sure enough, as he continued to speak, the class began to giggle as we watched Sam’s face gradually turn red, starting at the neck and spreading to his face just as predicted. What Sam didn’t realize is that we probably would not have noticed this if he had not directed our attention to his blushing.

Remind yourself that most stage fright is unnoticed, unless you point it out to the audience.

There is a certain “Catch-22” effect to stage fright; one of the things that makes us nervous is the thought that the audience can tell how nervous we are. The corollary to this, of course, is that if the audience can’t see our nervousness, we won’t feel quite so uncomfortable. It is often said that dogs can smell fear on us. And some people think audiences can smell our fear as well, but they can’t. They only see what they are shown.

Think about the various physical manifestations of stage fright. While you may feel your heart start to pound in your chest, the audience cannot see that. Your knees may feel a little weak, but the audience can’t see that either. Your palms may feel sweaty, but that symptom goes undetected as well. Most of the effects of stage fright, while glaringly obvious to you, are in fact invisible to the listeners.

Of course, some of the effects of stage fright are visible, so our task is to minimize them or at the very least not draw attention to them. Demonstrating how to apply eye makeup with quivering hands, for example, is a bad idea. A student demonstrating ballet steps might want to avoid the arabesque position (standing on one leg with the other leg extended behind the body) if they experience shivering legs while speaking.

Start by doing an honest inventory of your personal bouts of stage fright. Write down every symptom that you go through; then check to see how many of them would not be easily detected by an audience (remember, the listeners’ main focus is on receiving your message, not on evaluating your nervousness). Common “invisible” symptoms include dry mouth, tightened throat, cold or clammy hands, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and even nausea.

Now look at what is left on your list, the “visible” symptoms, and decide what can be done to minimize or partially mask them. For example:

  • Shaky hands – this is most noticed when you draw attention to them, such as holding a sheet of paper or using a handheld microphone. Minimize this by either placing your notes on the lectern or a table, or by using note cards (you can’t shake a note card hard enough to make rattling noises!). Arrange for a lapel microphone or a microphone stand in advance.
  • Cracking voice – this is usually caused by having a dry mouth and throat. Before stepping up to speak, take a few sips of water, coffee, or tea. It’s considered fine to keep a drink nearby in case you need a sip during the speech as well. (It is recommended to have a warm or room-temperature drink, not one that is ice cold. The sudden icy shock can tighten the muscles in your mouth rather than relax them.)
  • Nervous legs – this can be minimized by spreading your feet just slightly wider than your normal stance, in order to better balance your weight. This will keep you from bouncing and fidgeting, which can draw attention.
  • Trembling lips – these are nearly unnoticeable while you are actually speaking. Therefore, long periods of awkward silence should be avoided. Deep breathing and the occasional sip of water will also help to calm and hide those involuntary trembles.

It is not necessary to hide every possible sign of nervousness when you give a speech, as the audience is very forgiving of signs that you are human. But it is reassuring to know that your stage fright feels ten times worse to you than it looks to your listeners. And with a little bit of advance planning, you can conceal most of those few outward telltale signs.

The Lectern Is the Devil!

Okay, not really. But it is a diabolical temptation that can rob you of your effectiveness and actually make you more nervous during a presentation and perpetuate your nervousness down the road.

In virtually every public speaking classroom, a lectern is as much a part of the standard furniture as student desks. And we speech instructors dutifully follow the unspoken rule of teaching students to use that lectern. But what happens the first time you have to give a speech outside of class and there is no lectern to stand behind? Do you panic?

For many years, I was guilty of teaching my students to speak from behind the lectern. Eventually, I realized that when I gave presentations outside of the school environment, a lectern was provided about half the time. Other times, I might be asked to step up on a podium, or speak at a luncheon table, or from a stool on a stage, etc. The point is, if you become accustomed to only speaking with a lectern, you will be handicapped when you encounter many real world speaking opportunities where your safety net, or “boo-boo blanket,” is not present. As a result, my speech students are not allowed to use the lectern – until the end of the semester, when I know they are confident enough not to need it.

Lectern dependency has many drawbacks. First, if your speech notes are on the lectern, you will be tempted to stand in one place, creating tension in your body. Second, the security of having your notes right in front of you might lead you to read your speech or at least stare at your notes rather than look at and engage your audience. Third, some students will lean on the lectern, exhibiting a less-than-professional posture that either reveals a lack of confidence or projects an overly casual attitude toward the speech. Fourth, some speakers grab onto the lectern for dear life, unknowingly showing the audience just how white and bloodless they can make their knuckles! Fifth, some speakers rest their hands on the lectern, which results in restrained half-gestures or no gestures at all; natural hand gestures both enhance the speech for the listeners and help to relax the speaker, so they should not be inhibited. And finally, some speakers are unwittingly trying to get a foothold on the lectern, appearing to the amused audience as if they are trying to find a way to climb up it.

If your instructor allows you to use the lectern during your presentations, here is a simple way to use it effectively: pretend the lectern is a hot stove, and your notes are the dinner you are cooking during your speech.

When cooking dinner, you put your food on the stove, but not your hands. Although the food may occasionally need stirring or turning, it does not require you to stand at attention in front of the stove throughout the cooking process. Rather, you are free to walk around the kitchen while cooking, returning once in a while to make sure nothing is burning. In the same way, you should feel free to wander away from the lectern, but still remain in the general area. If you suddenly notice something is burning (you forgot what your next point is supposed to be), you don’t want to be fifteen or twenty feet away and have to awkwardly run back to the “stove.”

Remember – just because a lectern has been provided for you does not mean that you are obligated to use it. But if you choose to, rest your notes on it for convenience only. Walk to the left side of the lectern, then back to your notes, and then walk to the right side. Develop a natural style that is not hindered by that diabolically tempting security blanket. The less you use it, the more confident you become. 


Sometimes the best way to handle your stage fright is to just tell the audience how nervous you are feeling and hope they understand.





Never Apologize; Never Acknowledge Stage Fright to the Audience

I have heard countless students apologize for their speeches not being as well-prepared or well-documented or well-delivered as they should be, all in a misguided attempt to seek forgiveness for shortcomings. One recent student said, “I meant to bring a picture so you could understand this more clearly, but I forgot it this morning.” Of course, the audience didn’t know she had intended to bring the picture, so there was no need to tell them. But now the audience did know that something important was missing and that the speech could have been much better.

Another student began his speech by saying, “I didn’t know I’d be so nervous when I got up here. My hands are shaking!” And of course, the audience immediately began watching his hands shake (which they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed), and searching for other outward signs of nervousness rather than giving full attention to the speech.

In reality, these apologies and acknowledgements only distract from the effectiveness of the presentation; the apologetic speaker has just told the audience that this will not be a very good speech, or that they are not a very good speaker! The audience reaction is bound to be, “Then why should I take the time to listen to you?” Or even worse, the audience will feel slighted or insulted that you didn’t respect them enough to be fully prepared.

Why would a speaker apologize in advance for deficiencies in the two main components of the speech, content and delivery? The underlying purpose is to ask the audience to grant you permission to give a poor performance. And if the audience is willing to accept an inadequate performance, the speaker now feels free to underachieve. Rather than controlling and mastering our stage fright, we have asked for approval to let our stage fright interfere with the potential impact of the speech. By convincing the audience that this will be a poor performance, we are, by extension, convincing ourselves as well. This is a rather defeatist attitude.

If we ask for, and receive, permission to give sub-par performances, we will enter an odd comfort zone of “just getting by” rather than challenging ourselves to become better, more confident speakers. We need to set higher standards for ourselves. Our preparation needs to be extensive, and if some minor thing goes wrong or is forgotten, there is no need to point it out to the audience. It is not necessary to apologize before, during or after a speech.

Move with Purpose


A good speaker keeps moving throughout their speech, because movement is attention-getting.





Mastering movement during a speech can be one of the trickiest skills to develop. Some people try to stand like a statue and build up muscle tension in their body as a result. Other speakers pace back and forth or dance around as if they can’t stand still, distracting the audience and highlighting their nervousness. There needs to be a middle ground. Two “tricks of the trade” that can help you are the neutral position and the magic triangle.

Try this simple experiment. While standing in front of a mirror, fold your arms, comfortably and naturally, across your chest. (Seriously, try this!) Now, reverse the way your arms are folded – whichever arm is on top, put on the bottom, whichever arm is on the bottom goes on the top. Now look at yourself in the mirror again. Although you may feel a little uncomfortable, you look just as natural as you did originally. The point is that although some of the suggestions you are about to read may feel unnatural at first, they will look right to the audience and you will be projecting a confident image.

When you are ready to begin your speech, walk to the front of the room and assume the “neutral position.” Set your feet approximately shoulder width apart. This is usually a few inches wider than your normal stance, but not wide enough to look awkward to your audience. This will cause you to distribute your weight evenly, discouraging you from shifting your weight from foot to foot as you speak, crossing and uncrossing your legs, or other unconscious outward signs of nervousness.

Your hands should be comfortably hanging at your sides (don’t worry, they won’t stay there for long), with your note cards held unobtrusively in one hand. Again, this is not going to feel quite normal to you, since the natural tendency is to “do something” with your hands, like put them in your pockets, clasp them together behind your back, hold up your note cards with both hands, or even fold your arms. The problem with any of these temptations is that they restrict your natural ability to use your arms and hands in a conversational way. If your hands are hanging loosely at your sides, you can bring them up freely and use them in a conversational manner, then drop them back down to your sides when done. Feel free to use your arms and hands as emphatically as you would in normal conversation.

Once the speech begins, the magic triangle is a way to choreograph your speech in a way that helps you relax while looking professional and purposeful to your listeners. And best of all, the audience will never notice!

When you strike your neutral position at the beginning of your speech, imagine that you are standing on the point of a triangle painted on the floor. The other two points of the triangle go out in front of you, to your left and right, toward the audience.

Keeping your feet in the neutral position, straddle that imaginary triangle point as you deliver the entire introduction of your speech. When you are ready to move into your first main point in the body of your speech, casually but purposefully take a few steps to the triangle point to the left. When you reach that point, make sure your feet are back in the neutral position, weight balanced, and deliver your first main point from this new spot. What you have done is to release tension in your body, but you have also presented a visual transition for your audience that was perfectly aligned with the text of the speech. It doesn’t look like random, nervous movement, but rather like confident use of the speaking area.

As you transition from your first main point into your second, take a few steps to the triangle point to your right. Again, be sure to balance your weight as you arrive at the new speaking location, and deliver all of main point two from this spot. For main point three, step back to your original starting point.

Now you are ready to transition into your conclusion. At this point, walk into the middle of the make-believe triangle, pause, and wrap up your speech.

By using this method, you have allowed yourself to stand in five places during the speech, releasing tension each time you moved. Yet each time you walked, it was coordinated with the text of your presentation for smoothness. In your mind, you might imagine footprints painted on the floor, like how old-time dance instructors used to teach people to waltz. But to the audience, you are as smooth and confident as a graceful ballroom dancer.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.09.

Make Direct Eye Contact

The next time you are talking to your dog or cat, notice something interesting – not only do we naturally look into our pet’s eyes when we talk to them, but your pet is looking you directly in the eyes in return. When speaking to a baby, much too young to grasp the complexities of communication, you’ll notice the baby making direct eye contact with you as you speak. How do they know to do that?

The simple fact is that communication takes place eye to eye. You’ve instinctively known that since infancy. Even your dog knows it! So why, when we are giving a speech and trying to be as effective in our communication as possible, do we try to deny that universal truth by avoiding eye contact?

The reason we try to avoid eye contact is simple – it’s scary! It can be very unsettling to look up and realize you have a room full of people staring at you.

The solution to overcoming that fear may seem counterintuitive to you at first, but the best approach is to make direct eye contact back to the audience. However, don’t look at the whole audience – look at one person at a time. Don’t look at the forest, look at the individual trees.

We all talk to strangers one-on-one every day of our lives. When the cashier at the grocery store says hello, we don’t recoil in fear. We say hello back. When someone sits next to you on a plane or a bus and talks to you, we engage in conversation. We can handle people one at a time with no problem.

Since it is intimidating to be stared at by a whole room full of people, the key to effective eye contact is not to look at the whole room at once, but rather to have a series of personal, one-to-one conversations with everyone in the room.

When you are ready to start your speech, look for a friendly face that is looking at you. Begin your speech to that one person only, as if the rest of the crowd doesn’t even exist. You will probably notice them smile, or nod, or in some way give you a little positive feedback. And that will help you relax! After about 10 – 15 seconds, glance around to find someone else that is looking your way, and speak to that audience member personally. Don’t hold their gaze too long, or you will make your listeners feel uncomfortable.

The goal is to have a brief, personal conversation with each person in the room for just a few seconds, then move on to someone else. By talking to that one individual listener, you will be able to read their body language and facial expressions to see if they are understanding your points and agreeing with you. But most importantly, that brief bonding will help the audience members feel a part of your presentation because you are speaking directly to them. In return, you will feel less isolated as they give you their attention and encouragement, making you feel more comfortable as well.

One student who works as a server at a large Mexican restaurant compared this to her job. If she had to make an announcement to everyone in the dining room, she would be intimidated, but she can easily walk up to an individual table and strike up a conversation with the diners.

Remember – you are not speaking to “a crowd,” but rather a group of individuals. Talk to them individually and you will both feel more at ease.

Click here to see the script for Video 2.10.

Controlling Nervousness After You Speak

Once your speech is over, you may want to go collapse in your chair in relief! And that’s okay. But this is also a great time to sit back and rethink the speech you just delivered and note the progress you are making in developing your new skill.

Rejoice in Your Successes!

Woman jumping for joy in front of sunset.
Celebrate your success! Don't fixate on the little things. [12]

You just finished successfully delivering a speech. Congratulations! And although there are many more speeches you need to prepare for, don’t forget to take ten minutes to celebrate and rejoice in your success of this one.

For many of us, when a speech has ended, the self-criticism begins. It is completely natural to look back on your presentation and think of all the shortcomings – “I forgot that quote,” or “I stumbled over that name,” or “My conclusion was awful!” Of course, in most cases, the audience never noticed these things. If you forgot a quote, for example, the audience had no idea you’d planned to include it. And minor mistakes such as a stumble or stutter are part of everyday conversation; as long as there were relatively few of these, they hardly registered in the listeners’ minds.

At the end of my students’ presentations, I ask each of them to fill out a self-evaluation form that includes two main questions: (1) what went well with my speech? And (2) what areas need improvement? Invariably, the student will remember many more flaws than successes.

On occasion, though, students will confide a personal success when evaluating themselves. One young woman answered the question “what went well with my speech?” by writing, “I MADE IT THROUGH THE SPEECH WITHOUT FAINTING!!!” She did not appear excessively nervous when she spoke, so I had no idea this was a concern of hers.

You probably have a notebook in which you take lecture notes in your public speaking class. Set aside a separate section of the notebook for nothing but recording your successes after each speech. When you first sit down after a presentation, while your heart is still pounding and the adrenaline is still flowing, turn to that section of your notebook and write down all the positive things that just happened. No, your speech may not have changed the world. But what went right that you can build on for future presentations? Sample “success comments” from student speakers have included:

  • “I didn’t forget any information.”
  • “I had good eye contact, and kept my voice loud.”
  • “I used my hand gestures effectively”
  • “I got the audience to laugh!”
  • “I felt a lot more prepared and confident than my last speech.”
  • “My introduction was strong and caught people’s attention.”
  • “I had a clear conclusion – people knew when my speech was over.”
  • “I didn’t pace around like a caged lion this time!”

Click here to see the script for Video 2.11.

These may all seem like trivial points, but they all indicate that a small, personal goal was met. And when that happens it means you’re getting better! If these things went well for you in this speech, they can go just as well in the next speech. Before you start beating yourself up over all the things that you were disappointed by, take ten minutes to celebrate and remind yourself that you are becoming a more effective speaker with every presentation. When you start feeling uncertain about the next assignment, review all your “success comments” to reassure yourself that you can meet the next challenge.

The Audience Wants You to Succeed

A speaker receiving a standing ovation from an audience.
The audience is your friend. They are not rooting for your failure. [13]​

Often stage fright can be brought on by an imagined adversarial relationship between the speaker and the audience. It is easy to assume a “me-versus-them” mentality, as if the audience is an enemy that you need to confront and conquer.

It is much more comforting to realize that the audience is really on your side and hoping that you will do a good presentation. As soon as your speech is over, try to recall the encouragement that you received from this audience. The next audience will be just as supportive.

In a speech class setting, the camaraderie should be even stronger than when addressing a group of strangers, since everyone in the room is in the same nerve-wracking situation. Watching your classmates give good speeches reminds you that this is not so terrible, that we all can do this and survive just fine. The rest of the class is thinking the same thing when you step to the front of the room. They are pulling for you to set a relaxed, receptive mood for the room.

Whether inside or outside of the classroom setting, remember that the audience is not your enemy. They do not wish you to fail. They share in the level of comfort or discomfort that you establish. They are interested in hearing clearly what you have to say, whether they agree with your message or not.

Remember – This Is Normal!

Sometimes, the simplest, most obvious advice works the best. It can have a calming effect to just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself, “Hey, of course I’m nervous. I’m supposed to be nervous!”

Accept your stage fright as a fact of life, a normal facet of public speaking. You were nervous in the speech you just finished, and you will be nervous in the next one, too. In fact, it would be highly unusual if you were not feeling some uneasiness. All around your classroom, every student who is preparing for a presentation is feeling the same anxiety that you are feeling. Your professor probably feels some of the same apprehension before giving an important lecture or presentation. Some of the most experienced, professional speakers in the world get very nervous before a speech, so why should you be any different?

Sure, stage fright is unpleasant, but only until you turn it around and start using it as positive energy. One way to do this is to simply laugh about the reality of the nervousness. See the humor in a room full of nervous people, including you!

Walking into a party where you only know a few people can also be stress-inducing, until you break the ice and start to relax and enjoy talking to the new people you meet. But we associate a party with “fun,” and giving a speech with “fear.” The knowledge that you will meet new people doesn’t stop you from going and enjoying a party, and the acknowledgement of stage fright won’t stop you from enjoying talking to your audience.

When that sense of foreboding and dread start to get the better of you, take a moment to smile and have a little talk with yourself. Remind yourself, “Yes. I’m nervous. So what? This is normal. This is natural. It is the most common fear in America. I’m no different from anyone else. All those other speakers are nervous too, and they are doing their speeches just fine. I will too!”

Stage Fright Can Be Fun!

No, seriously! Consider the idea that just because something is “scary” doesn’t mean that it is negative. Hollywood has made quite a fortune out of finding ways to frighten the audience. Some people will stand in line for an hour or more to ride a roller coaster. Nearly every town has a local “haunted house,” and Universal Studios has made a tradition of “Halloween Horror Nights.”

There is a well-established custom of people paying a lot of money to be scared. We enjoy the thrill of being startled by a shark or a chainsaw-wielding maniac in the theater. We revel at the sensation of almost being thrown from the amusement park ride, or of a man in menacing clown makeup jumping from the shadows to threaten us.

What do these experiences all have in common? In the end, we know that they really are safe. When we step off the roller coaster, with wobbly knees and feeling lightheaded, we know that in a few minutes all will be back to normal. When the movie ends, the house lights will come up, and we will brush the popcorn from our laps and walk outside to return to our normal lives.

When you think about it, is that so different from your speech class? Admittedly, there will probably never be a public speaking thrill ride at an amusement park or a horror movie called “Stage Fright!” But when class is over and the “terror” of public speaking has subsided, you walk out of class without any real physical or psychological damage. Life is as it should be as you return to your normal daily routine. So does the “scariness” of giving a speech need to be negative?

One student, an avid surfer, came to me halfway through the semester and announced, “I finally figured out why I like this class so much! It gives me the same adrenaline rush that I get when I’m surfing and I catch a wave, only it’s in a classroom instead of in the ocean!”

Davie, who rarely needs to speak in public, was asked by a friend to give a luncheon presentation. She agreed but when the realization set in that she had only given two or three speeches in the last 30 years, she immediately regretted accepting the invitation. She spent the next three weeks alternating between preparing her speech, panicking, and reading various sections of stage fright books. When the day of the event arrived, she was fully prepared and practiced and did a great job with her presentation. Later in the day, though, she confessed feeling a bit of a let-down. Yes, she had been dreading the speech, but she was a little disappointed that it was over; she had to admit that it was actually quite exciting.

The odds are pretty good that you will never really get hurt by giving a speech, any more than you will really be attacked by a shark in a movie theater or thrown from the top of a roller coaster. Yes, it can be scary, but when it’s over, you can laugh about it and say, “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”

Or, as the surfer dude put it, “Public speaking is a rush!

Consider the Big Picture

One of the most relaxing feelings in the world is to stand and look at the vastness around you, whether it is the ocean, the mountains, or just a star-filled night sky. It can remind you how insignificant the petty irritations of the day are in the grand scheme of the universe.

Compare that feeling to your next classroom speech: it will be only one speech out of a series of speeches you will be giving, in only one class out of your entire college career, out of your entire life! In the big picture of your world, how much does it really matter if you jumble up a few words in this next speech?

Please do not misunderstand; this advice is by no means giving you permission to slough off and not try your best. Rather than thinking, “Eh, it’s only a classroom speech,” each of your assignments should be valued as a rare opportunity to address your peers on something of importance, not just a laboratory for practice. No, you should not minimize the possible impact of your presentations, but you should minimize the importance of the things that could go wrong.

Put things in perspective by asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly go wrong during my speech, and so what if it does?

Stacey was demonstrating her personalized chocolate chip cookie recipe, starting with a box of cookie mix. She had all of her ingredients measured and her utensils neatly laid out on the table as she began the speech. It was obvious that her stage fright was high and her adrenaline was pumping as she nearly ripped the top off of the box of powdered cookie mix while opening it. The plastic bag inside the box, however, presented the greater challenge. Stacey grabbed the bag firmly with both hands, held it up to her chest, and yanked fiercely to pull the bag open. As the video of the speech showed in excruciating detail, the bag literally exploded, forcing the contents upward into her face. Then the cloud of cookie mix flopped down on the top of her head, her shoulders, and even her eyelashes. The rest of the mix settled all over the floor and her neatly prepared table. The class was stunned silent as she stood frozen for a moment, limp, empty plastic bag in hand, completely covered with dry brown dust and chocolate chips.

After a moment of hesitation, with the mix falling from her head, face and shoulders with every slight movement, she reached down to the table, scooped some of the powder into her hands, dropped it into the large mixing bowl and said, “Now, assuming that all this had made it into the bowl, the next thing would be to add two eggs…..” and she continued her speech! The class roared with approval and applauded, amazed at the poise she displayed in such a disastrous moment. (She earned an A on that speech, by the way, for such grace and perseverance in the situation.)

By comparison, what might go wrong with your speech? Dropping a note card? Losing your place and needing to check your notes? Forgetting a reference? Stumbling through a lengthy quote? So what! Many speakers, such as Stacey, have recovered from much worse. So how bad is a minor blip in delivery?

The fear of the unknown is powerful, but you can’t prepare for every possible mishap. Sure, something could go wrong that you haven’t thought about. But always be prepared to the best of your ability and then consider the Big Picture: what’s the worst thing that could possibly go wrong during my speech, and so what if it does? You just might find that mindset is as comforting as a walk on the beach.

Chapter Summary

By now you can see that there are plenty of methods for controlling nervousness. There is no one perfect solution. You obviously can’t incorporate all of these suggestions – heck, some of them contradict each other! Instead you need to find the ones that work for you, sometimes through trial and error, and reject the ones that don’t feel right.

Speechmaking is referred to as the art of public speaking, not the science of public speaking. There are no absolute rules, only guidelines. Just as no two artists will ever create the exact same painting or sculpture, no two speakers will ever design and deliver the exact same speech. You are unique. As such, a stage fright technique that works for one person may not help you. Mix and match the various ideas in this chapter throughout the semester and your speaking career to find the right combination that works for you.

You may need to start working on your anxiety weeks in advance, hours in advance, during the speech, or even build your confidence after the speech is done. Find the approach that fits your needs.

As stated earlier, your goal is not to totally eliminate your nervousness. But rather to take control of it and not let it control you. And when possible, convert those negative feelings into positive energy, enabling you to give dynamic, enthusiastic presentations. 

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End of Chapter Checklist

After reading this chapter, you should be able to say to yourself:

  • I have a better understanding of speech anxiety
  • I know techniques that can help speech anxiety before the day of the speech
  • I know techniques that can help speech anxiety immediately before the speech
  • I know techniques that can be used during the speech
  • I know techniques that can be used after the speech
  • I am confident and able to develop my own approach to building confidence
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Video Scripts

Video 2.01

• I’m afraid someone will ask me a question, and I won’t know the answer 

• I’m afraid someone in the audience will heckle me 

• I’m afraid I will forget what I’m planning to say 

• I’m afraid people will see how nervous I am 

• I’m afraid people will laugh at me 

• I’m afraid I’m going to faint 

• I’m afraid they’ll see my hands shaking 

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.02

"So, Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea for writing the musical, Hamilton, while on vacation. He was bored and looking for a book to read, and picked up a book about the life of Alexander Hamilton by …. Um… (struggles to find the author’s name)”

Rude audience member, “Oh come on, get to the point.”

Audience members turn on heckler, “Hey!” “Shhhhh!” “That’s not nice!” 

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.03

1. (two students sitting down next to each other) “So Harper Lee, before she ever wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was working on her first novel. It was all about a woman who goes back to her hometown in Alabama to visit her father and her old boyfriend. The woman is Jean Louise Finch, but everyone knows her as Scout. Her father is Atticus Finch. Sound familiar?”

2. (Speaking student is now standing up) “It turns out that this novel has a lot of stories from Scout’s childhood in it, and when Harper Lee sent it to her publishers, they suggested that she should rewrite the novel and set it in the earlier time, when Scout was just a girl.”

3. (A third student is now sitting at the table listening as the speaker remains standing) “So that’s how Harper Lee came to write the great American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, about the little girl idolizing her father, Atticus, as he fights for justice in a racist society.”

4. (Speaking student is now at the front of the class, talking to the same two students) “The interesting thing is that some 50 years later, that original novel that Harper Lee wrote, Go Set a Watchman, was finally found and published. So even though this novel was written first, it is set twenty years later, after Scout grows up, so everyone thinks is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.”

5. (Student is standing in front of the class of several students) “In the novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee shows a totally different interpretation of Atticus Finch, the hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In this book, Atticus is more accepting of the blatant racism that exists in his small town in Alabama. While he doesn’t exactly condone it, he is a lot more understanding and tolerant of it.” 

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.04

I’m not a very good public speaker. I get much too nervous in front of the class. I hate this speech class! I don’t want to do this speech. I’m going to be boring! I just can’t handle this!

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.05

If other people can do this, so can I. This is tough, but it’s helping me improve. I’m looking forward to talking about my topic. I chose a good topic and they’ll love it. I’m well-rehearsed and they’ll love it. I’m more prepared for this than I’ve ever been.

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.06

As most of you are probably aware, we had a farmer’s market on campus a couple weekends ago. Those of you who came by probably noticed several stands for raw, local honey; these stands are very popular, both with people and insects alike. You might wonder, though, why use the word “raw” when describing honey? Is honey normally cooked? Are there any real differences between raw honey and processed honey?

(speaker walks over and picks up note cards) Tonight, I hope to introduce the natural wonder of honey to you, describe the differences between raw honey and “regular” honey, and teach you about the many health benefits of raw honey

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.07

• I just know I’m going to forget my introduction!

• I’m probably going to get my note cards all mixed up

• I’m going to blank out in the middle of this speech. I always do.

• I’m going to sound boring, I won’t really sound like I care about this topic.

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.08

So today I want to inform you about the history of Marvel comics, from the comic books to the blockbuster movies. …God, I can’t believe how nervous I am right now. My hands are actually shaking…

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.09

“Let’s be honest, how many of you in this class actually waited until you were 21 years old before you had your first drink of alcohol? NONE of us, right? So let’s stop the hypocrisy. (moves to note cards) Tonight I hope to convince you that we need to lower the drinking age back down to 18. My first main point is that 18 is legally the age of adulthood.”

(moving to second station) “My second main point is that lowering the drinking age will take away the “forbidden fruit” temptation.”

(moving to the back corner) “My third main point is that lowering the drinking age will reduce binge drinking, especially on college campuses.”

(moving to the center of the triangle, putting notes down) “So to summarize, lowering the drinking age to 18 will be consistent with the age of majority, will eliminate the ‘forbidden fruit’ temptation, and will reduce binge drinking on our campuses.”

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.10

“How many people have ever heard of the term ‘sidewalk surfing?’ For those who haven’t that was the original name of skateboarding. Now how many of you have actually tried skateboarding at least once? I remember my first skateboard and the differences between that board and the one I have today is quite impressive. So today I will tell you the history of skateboarding, and how it has evolved over the years.”

Click here to return to video.

Video 2.11

o “I didn’t forget any information.” 

o “I had good eye contact, and kept my voice loud.”

o “I used my hand gestures effectively” 

o “I got the audience to laugh!” 

o “I felt a lot more prepared and confident than my last speech.” 

o “My introduction was strong and caught people’s attention.” 

o “I had a clear conclusion – people knew when my speech was over.”

o “I didn’t pace around like a caged lion this time!” 

Click here to return to video.

Image Sources

[1] Image courtesy of papalars under CC BY-ND 2.0.

[2] Image courtesy of NikolayF in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of tookapic in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of PROPeter Alfred Hess under CC BY 2.0.

[6] Image courtesy of Chrisjnelson under CC BY 3.0.

[7] Image courtesy of frederickhomesforsale under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[8] Image courtesy of  Alex Proimos under CC BY 2.0.

[9] Image courtesy of Unsplash in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of RelaxingMusic under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[11] Image courtesy of Unsplash in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of Nevit Dilmen under CC BY-SA 3.0.

[13] Image courtesy of 1556045 in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of vocalessence under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Demystify - verb
To make something easier to understand and less intimidating by removing the mystery around it.
Primordial - adj
Biologically, in the earliest stages of evolutionary development.
Adrenaline - noun
Technically, the hormone epinephrine, which is produced by the body to raise blood pressure and stimulate the heart. But the term is used to describe the body’s reaction to fear, stress, excitement, or increased energy.
Glossophobia - noun
A needlessly fancy word for the fear of public speaking.
Systematic Desensitization
A method of treating fears and phobias by being exposed to a series of stressful situations, each one worse than the last, and learning how to apply relaxation techniques to reduce them.
Procrastinate - verb
To deliberately put off doing something that you know you should be doing now.
Cognitive Restructuring
The process of recognizing negative, inaccurate thoughts within us and replacing them with more positive, helpful thoughts.
Delivery Mode
As you will see in Chapter 11, there are four basic delivery modes, or styles of delivering a speech.
This is the practice of learning to control aspects of the bodily functions previously thought out of our conscious control.
Isometric Exercises
Isometric exercises zero in on specific muscles and strengthen them by pressuring them with either another part of the body or an immovable object.
Hyperventilation - noun
Technically this is the result of repeated, short breaths that reduce the carbon dioxide and increase the oxygen in your system, causing you to feel lightheaded.
Stock Arguments
The most common, often used (and overused) arguments on controversial issues.
This phrase was the name of a novel (and a movie) by Joseph Heller. The title referred to a dilemma that if a war pilot was mentally unstable, he didn’t have to fly any more missions. However, if the pilot asked for a mental evaluation, that was considered the process of a rational mind.
Neutral Position
This position is the stance you take in front of the audience before your speech begins. You are not yet in gear - you are still in neutral.