Worse Than Death? A Guide to Beating Public Speaking Nerves

death-159120_640Just in time for Halloween, a poll commissioned for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London has found that a fear of public speaking ranks higher than a fear of death. The poll questioned 2,000 women and found that, although the top fears were losing family members and being buried alive, a close third place was speaking in public.

While the first two will strike a chord with anyone, a fear of public speaking may sound slightly less serious. That is, if you’re not staring at a public speaking situation. It is perfectly understandable and, as the above poll shows, if you feel this way then you are not alone. However, it is an avoidable fear.

So for those who feel that way, here is my three point plan for beating the nerves and making sure that you have the confidence and courage to stand up and talk, whether it’s at a function like a wedding, a presentation at work, or just in front of a large group of friends.

1 – Mental Preparation

First of all, make sure than you are ready for your speech or presentation. Practice, practice and then practice some more. Take every opportunity, whether it’s in front of friends or family or on your own in your room, in the shower or when you’re out walking.

There really is no substitute for practice. Done properly and consistently, it will give you the confidence that you know your material. As a result, you can strike off one reason why people get nervous: a fear of the unknown. If you know your material inside-out, then that is one less thing to worry about.

Another thing to remember is that how you are feeling is all in the mind. This may sound obvious but it’s true. Fear can be a powerful thing, a terrible thing; but it is still just an emotional reaction.

So try to get a sense of perspective. Ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen? Then think about what you can do to counter that. For example:

  • You forget the words? Then make sure you have nice, clear notes available to you.
  • You will look as though you don’t know what you’re talking about? Then do your research, or have a friendly expert to hand to help, or (and this is the most important) don’t be afraid to tell the questioner that you’ll get back to them once you’ve had a chance to look up the answer.
  • Worried that everyone will laugh at you, or hate you, or not laugh at you (if your speech or presentation is a humorous one)? Don’t worry. One of the big secrets of public speaking is that everyone will be on your side. Look back to the start of this article. You are not alone in being afraid of speaking out in public. You can guarantee that a fair proportion of your audience will be respecting you for standing up and speaking in front of them. They will want you to do well. It’s human nature. If you don’t believe me, just think back to the last time you saw someone speak, someone who appeared a bit nervous. Think about how you reacted. I bet you were willing them to do their best.
2 – Physical Preparation

There are a few little tricks you can do to calm the nerves and get yourself in the best possible position to do as well as you can when you stand up to speak:

  • Be rested. Try and get as good a night’s sleep as possible the night before. To help you with this, make sure that you do no more practice after (say) 6pm – do something completely different to take your mind off it. If you spend all evening cramming you will just end up stressing yourself even more, leading to lack of sleep, leading to you being even less likely to remember your lines, leading to even more nerves on the day… You get the picture. So try to kick back and relax!
  • Speak to others. Don’t bottle up how you feel – share it! Sometimes just sharing how you feel can be enough to lighten the load, if only a little. And if you share with the right person they may even come up with something to help you.
  • Think about what normally helps you relax. Exercise can be a great way to burn off all that nervous energy. On the other side of the spectrum, meditation and visualisation can be a great way to settle the nerves. One great source I have found recently is www.getsomeheadspace.com – the first 10 sessions are free and it may just help you to find that little bit of calm that you need.
  • Take deep breaths. Every time you feel yourself starting to panic or get nervous, take a few long, deep breaths. Focus on filling your lungs completely and then emptying them. The oxygen will help to calm your nerves and feed your brain, and by breathing deeply you will stop yourself hyperventilating.
  • Just before you are about to speak, take a few really deep breaths. Concentrate on breathing in all the way and then out all the way. Again, this will help to calm your body and, just as importantly, give you the puff and energy to get you started with speaking.
3 – Just Do It!

At the end of the day, there is no substitute for standing up and starting to speak. This may sound daunting, but absolutely the hardest part is starting; once you’re in your flow you’ll find it so much easier than you feared.

To help you with this, make sure you have 100% memorised the opening couple of lines of what you are going to say, as well as having them written out in front of you – even if it’s something as simple as “Good afternoon, my name is Pete and I’m going to speak to you today about…”


So that’s it – sounds simple, doesn’t it? A fear of public speaking is understandable, but it can be beaten very easily, by just focusing on a few key points.

Good luck!




Peter D Oxley
Pete Oxley is a freelance writer and business manager who lives in the English Home Counties. He enjoys reading and writing in a wide range of areas but his main passions are sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction and Steampunk. Influences include HG Wells, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, KW Jeter, Scott Lynch, Clive Barker and Joss Whedon. Author of the non-fiction book "The Wedding Speech Manual" and the historical fantasy series "The Infernal Aether". He lives with his wife, two young sons and a slowly growing guitar collection. Probably a masochist: aside from writing and willingly speaking in front of large crowds of strangers, Pete spends his spare time playing music badly and supporting football teams that play badly.

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