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Care talk with Tanya Russell: Accustomed as I am...

QUESTION: I have an intense fear of public speaking. This would not be a problem if my job didn’t require me to speak in public from time to time. I am worried that people will see how nervous I am and this will make me feel worse. What can I do to build my confidence?


Fear of public speaking is ranked above many other fears worldwide, including fear of death. So it is understandable why this would create anxiety for you, especially if public speaking is not something you do often. However, if this is part of your job, then it is important to dedicate some time to developing skills that will build your confidence. Being good at public speaking is all about developing skills – you do not have to have a natural ability to capture an audience and keep them engaged. You can learn how to do this in two ways: learn the skills of developing and delivering a good presentation/speech and learning skills to managing the fear and anxiety around public speaking. Public speaking has many benefits: enhancing and promoting business, introducing new business and networking opportunities, meeting like-minded people who share your passion for the topic you are presenting and giving you a sense of achievement and satisfaction in your work.

Keep the following in mind as you work on developing your skills. Instead of focusing on how you feel about public speaking, focus on the message you want to deliver. Many of us get caught up in the anxiety and worry of public speaking and this can impact on how we perform in front of an audience. Below are some tips to build your skills and reduce your anxiety.

Dealing with Anxiety

  • Choose how to respond to your worrying thoughts: What can you tell yourself the next time a fearful thought pops up? What would be more helpful to you to think at those times?
  • Learn to channel nervous energy into positive energy – tell yourself how excited you are and really convince yourself that this will be fun and interesting. Being nervous releases adrenalin, just as excitement does. Confuse your brain into thinking that public speaking is a good thing – ‘I can’t wait to meet these people’; ‘I’m really happy to share this information with other people’; ‘It will be great for me and great for business/my organisation.’
  • Practise deep, slow breathing regularly, as well as just before you speak in front of an audience. This will help to reduce the physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
  • Visualisation – Just before you speak, visualise a positive outcome of your presentation.
  • Meditate daily using mindfulness techniques.
  • Find a friend – introduce yourself to a few people before you start and then you will feel more comfortable when you look into the audience and make eye contact with them.

Presentation skills

  • Prepare well. Know your topic well − research extensively.
  • If possible, choose a topic that excites a passion greater than the fear of speaking.
  • Be concise with your message and avoid talking too fast.
  • Engage the audience – break up your presentation with visuals, role plays, Q&A, case studies and videos.
  • Practise but don’t memorise – know your material and work out how long you need and how long your speech will last – time yourself. You can practise in front of a mirror – or just aloud to yourself or a trusted friend or colleague. Pay attention to your facial expressions, gestures, body movements and how welcoming you appear.

It takes time to feel more confident with public speaking. If you feel you would like some additional resources, you could consider attending a Toastmasters International workshop or event. Visit the website for further information.