Does the idea of standing up in front of a group of people and talking make you want to run for the hills? If so, you’re not alone. If the stats are to be believed, most of us face the fear of public speaking to one degree or another.
Do You Have a Fear of Public Speaking?
For some of us, it’s a low-level nervousness we can push beyond to get the job done. For others, there’s no getting past the nausea, sweating, shaky, scatterbrained effects, even to consider “getting the job done.”
The good news: What you’re experiencing is totally normal. It’s the body’s way of protecting us, and it’s how our biological wiring works.
The even better news: You can control it. You can use simple, practical ways to counteract and silence all that anxiety that’s making you freak out and want to run away.
I know this for sure because I’ve done it myself. When I first had the opportunity to emcee Women of Faith and host thousands of women each weekend, I was scared to death. Nauseous, panicky, dry mouth, sweaty feet. You name it, I was feeling it.
But my desire to do what I was asked to do—what I wanted to do!—was stronger than my fear.
5 Simple Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
I could work with that. So I leaned in, asked successful speakers, did my research, found lots of tactics and gave them a solid go. And I found the handful of things that made all the difference for me. I hope they’ll help you, too.
1. Start with Why
Like Stephen Covey’s “Start with the end in mind,” Simon Sinek gave us a principle that has application in any instance. Start with why.
What’s your “why” for speaking? For most of us, you know something that will help other people.
Something worth sharing. Something you’ve learned that other people need to know.
Maybe you can teach couples how to have a stronger relationship with better communication. Maybe you share effective leadership principles for new managers. And maybe you help caregivers navigate the maze of healthcare options and insurance because you’ve been there yourself.
Or maybe you learned how to overcome the fear of public speaking and share what you learned so others can, too. ☺
Whatever you have to speak about, there’s a why within you. You have a powerful tool to help tip the scales away from the fear. And when you tap into it, really grab hold of it.
When I was asked to emcee, I wanted to do it. Because I loved Women of Faith. I loved the heart of the events and considered it an enormous privilege to help craft these life-changing weekends for women.
And I loved those women. I knew that changing their lives changed the lives of their families and spread to their circle of friends. It was important work, and I wanted to help make it happen in every way I could.
I knew the difference those weekends could make for those women. And I wanted with my whole heart to host their favorite party of the year. To guide them through the weekend, help them have a good time and encourage them not to miss all God had for them.
My desire to serve, love and lead those women gave my fear a legit run for its money.
What about you?
(Oh, and on the topic of money… here are four irrefutable laws about making money as a public speaker)
There are people out there right now who need what you have to share. Right? You know it can help them. You know it can make a difference in their lives. Right?
If that’s the case, wouldn’t you agree that you have a responsibility—a divine assignment—to get your message to the people who are waiting for it?
Let your why keep you focused. Let it fill you with certainty and urgency. The more that’s the case, the less space you leave for fear of having a voice.
(Whether you’re new to public speaking or quite experienced, the fear of public speaking might remain the same. However, if you are a new public speaker, don’t miss this post next)
Back to that biological wiring, we all have. From the beginning of time, humans needed each other.
Not just for connection and relationship. For safety and survival.
When our ancient ancestors lived, staying with the group was truly a matter of life or death. So they had to be super-careful about doing anything that might get them kicked out of the group. Risking offending others or being ostracized just wasn’t worth it.
Take the instinct that has us avoiding anything that might separate us from the people we need to survive and add the primal fear of standing alone, back against the wall, all eyes on you. What you have is a biological activation of a flood of fear and anxiety that will take over if we let it.
Thankfully, fear doesn’t get the final say. Nope. You have the simplest—but effective!—tool available anytime, anywhere. Know what it is? Breathing.
Yup. When you take a few slow, measured breaths, you can override that fear response like nobody’s business.
When you breathe slowly, basically, you’re telling your body to calm the heck down. You’re showing yourself that you’re fine. It’s fine. We’re all just fine.
You activate the calm and productive hormones and carry away the freaked-out, unhelpful ones.
I had a little pregame ritual during the last worship song before I took the stage for the first time on Friday night at Women of Faith. I’d slip my shoes off and dry my feet on the carpet because they were sweating enough that I risked falling to my death (in front of thousands) otherwise.
While I was doing the foot drying routine, I was breathing. At first, I went all-in on the process.
In for four beats, out for four beats. In through my nose, out through my mouth. It was Lamaze-level stuff. Later on, I gave up the counting and dedicated orifices, but I never stopped with the few calming breaths to settle down and get ready to rock it.
Any time you feel those old biological reactions to fear, whether it’s stepping up to speak or stepping into any challenging situation, try breathing. Settle yourself down. And get ready to rock it! Remember who’s in charge.
Now to my favorite tactic: smiling. Again, simple, free-of-charge and effective!
We were born to smile. As ultrasound technology has gotten better and the images clearer, it’s common to see babies smiling back at their expectant parents.
And according to Charles Darwin’s facial feedback response theory, we don’t just smile when we feel good. We feel good when we smile. Even when a smile is forced, it works its magic.
Wanna know why smiling makes such a big difference? Smiling does some of the same things physiological that breathing does. It floods your body with good hormones to make you feel calmer, more positive, more enthusiastic. And it combats the anxious ones.
But wait, there’s more! Smiling is contagious. When we smile, it doesn’t just make us feel good. It makes the people we’re smiling at feel good. How about that?
When you’re a speaker or presenter, smiling doesn’t just help you. It gives you the power to flood the room with good feelings. What could be more attractive in a speaker than a smile?
Andy Andrews is a captivating communicator who always effectively delivers wisdom and insight. I’ve had the opportunity to hear him speak several times. And I’ll never forget when he shared his #1, top, best and favorite tip to become irresistible to others:
Smile while you talk
I love this advice and have used the heck out of it over the years—on the stage and off. It’s a win-win. Smiling makes us feel better. Smiling makes the person we’re smiling feel better. They’re compelled to smile back. It’s an upward spiral of good feelings and positive connections.
Back to my Women of Faith pregame ritual with the drying and the breathing. Guess what else I was doing. I was smiling. At any one or no one. Made no difference.
Smiling fluffed up my good feelings and positivity. And it reminded me how much I loved the audience and wanted to serve them. It didn’t matter if it was a small smile or a big, goofy grin. My mouth turned up, my eyes crinkled at the edges, and the good stuff kicked in.
Don’t just take Andy Andrews’s advice and smile while you talk. Smile while you talk, but also smile before you talk! Smile before a job interview, a tough workout, a scary jump off the high dive.
Mother Teresa said, “I’ll never understand all the good a simple smile can accomplish.” Frankly, I don’t either. But I know it makes a difference. It has for me, and it will work for you, too.
I believe every one of us is here for a reason. And I believe that reason always includes being of service to others.
I believe sharing your gift is a divine assignment. Everything you’ve experienced in life isn’t just for you. It’s a gift you can share with other people. And an opportunity for you to find meaning, impact, influence beyond your wildest dreams.
What about you? Do you believe you’re called to share the message of your heart? To use it to teach, encourage and inspire others?
I hope you do because I believe that’s true for every one of us.
But maybe your fear of public speaking is holding you back.
Whether you’re a woman of faith who believes God’s given you this purpose or you believe it’s come from another source, doesn’t it stand to reason that your desire would have a corresponding need to fulfill in the audience you’re here to serve?
Years ago, I heard the wise and wonderful Jan Silvious speaking to a group of women in leadership. She said to them, “God gives the ministry, He gives the gifts, and we can trust Him with the results.”
She encouraged these women to believe that when we’re called to serve somehow, we can trust that we’ll be given everything we need to do it. And that when we do what we’re called to do, the results are out of our hands.
Believe in your message
When you have a message to share and a desire to serve the people who need it, you can trust that your message will hit its mark with the people it’s meant for.
It’s our job to show up, do our best, serve with a whole heart and open hands. The results, the impact are not ours to worry about. We can trust they will come exactly as they are meant to.
Isn’t that a relief to know the results aren’t yours to carry? You can trust that your message will connect exactly as it should with the people who need it?
At Women of Faith, I worked to keep my heart and mind centered on that truth. I loved my audience and wanted only to serve. I trusted that they’d feel that even if my words weren’t always exactly right.
Your audience can feel your heart. And a heart that’s in the right place just can’t miss.
I once heard Jenna Kutcher say something that I’ve adopted for my own practice. She said that each time she’s about to speak, she says a little prayer that her message will land with the people it’s meant for. And that everyone else will feel loved along the way.
If you’ve been given a message in your heart, share it. Whatever that looks like. Put it out into the world and trust that the people who need it will find you. And the impact it’s created for will follow.
5. Be Prepared
The final ingredient in the recipe for overcoming the fear of public speaking is preparation. You can only present as confidently as you’ve prepared to be.
I know of no way around this. And I really don’t know why anyone would want to try.
Confidence comes with work. Work to develop and refine your content. Work to grow your presentation skills. And work to develop your expertise as a speaker.
One of my pet peeves is the idea of “winging it” as a speaker. This just isn’t a thing.
Look at any professional, effective, accomplished speaker. You’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of preparation and practice.
Steve Jobs reportedly practiced for weeks before each Apple event. He was obsessed with every detail and unwilling to allow for anything less than excellence. And that focused, disciplined approach showed every time he took the stage.
Certainly, with practice, speakers become more effective over time. And all the skills they’ve learned are available when they need them—even on short notice. That’s not winging it. That’s the effect of years of practice and preparation. Don’t confuse the two.
Professional speakers take the opportunity and responsibility seriously. They do this by preparing effectively. By crafting a message that engages, connects and leaves a lasting impact.
They rehearse, watch themselves, invite feedback from others, and intentionally develop their presentation skills, body language, and stage presence.
(Writing your message in addition to speaking is another helpful strategy. Learn more about the benefits of writing for speakers in this blog post)
Develop your presentation skills to help overcome your fear of public speaking
If professionals prepare so diligently, how much more can preparation help less experienced speakers? The answer is a lot!
Preparing effectively brings confidence. We’ve all experienced the feeling of stepping onto a stage, into an interview, up to the free-throw line knowing we know what we’re doing. Knowing we’ve done all we can do to practice, prepare and perform our very best.
Do you know what that feeling is? It’s confidence.
At Women of Faith, I studied Mary Graham as an emcee so much in my preparation that someone called me “the Mary Graham clone.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment. You might say I went from one ditch to the other.
But I knew confidence comes from preparation. I dialed it back and found solid ways to be prepared while still being myself. I still prepare in the same way to this day.
Preparation brings confidence. And it does more to overcome the fear of public speaking than anything else I could recommend.
If you want to overcome the fear of public speaking, do the work to learn, practice and grow. In one way or another, every professional speaker you’ve seen has done that very thing.
TL;DR: How to Overcome The Fear of Public Speaking
If you’re looking to overcome the fear of public speaking so you can share your message with the world, here’s the sure-fire recipe that’s worked for me:
- Start with Why: Let your desire to serve and your certainty of the need for the message you’ve been given override the fear that’s holding you back.
- Breathe: Use intentional, measured breathing to help you settle down, focus and diffuse anxiety.
- Smile: Smile while you talk. And smile before you talk. Take advantage of a smile’s ability to make you feel better and do the same for your audience.
- Trust: Settle into the belief that your message was given to you for a reason. That you’re called to share it with others who need it. And that the results are out of your hands.
- Prepare: Solid preparation brings confidence. Every. Single. Time. The fear of public speaking has no chance against the confidence that comes from being prepared and ready to rock it.
That message inside you is a gift. It’s a gift you have to serve and help other people. And it’s an even greater gift for you. In sharing it, you’ll find meaning and impact.
Don’t let fear stand between you and the purpose you were meant for.