I’m really scared of public speaking.

Public speaking panic tips are at the bottom if you want to skip this story 🙂

This week I spoke on a recorded Zoom call for 75 seconds. I probably rehearsed it for an hour and a half (like 70+ times?). I just kept editing the script to make it as short as possible. I didn’t even try to memorize it.

When it was my turn to speak, my heart raced, I read the script word for word, stumbled a little, and immediately turned off my video when I was done — while the spotlight was still on me. I felt great when it was all over, but later that night I kept replaying the things I said or didn’t say, and couldn’t sleep for hours.

All this suffering for 75 seconds… And this is actually a huge improvement from past presentations, when I tried to get other people to present for me, or I over-rehearsed til 3am the night before, when I felt physically ill beforehand & bailed, when my neck kind of froze up after speaking….

I’m sharing this to say that (1) it is possible to speak while panicking and (2) it is possible to become less terrified over time. Sometimes it seems like speakers & presenters are extroverts and naturally confident and charming and well-spoken. I’m not like that; I’m pretty obviously nervous — BUT — my point is that you can do it anyway! You will not die! Worst case, you pass out or throw up. But other people have lived through both and worse. You can do this if you want to!

It’s taken me years to get here.

This is why I force myself to do speak/write/post despite the fear:

  • I want to speak up on topics like climate and social justice and women’s rights.
  • Staying silent limits my ability to effect change.
  • Staying silent feeds self-doubt and creates a stuckness that creeps into other areas of life.
  • Speaking up creates opportunities to discuss & learn & make things & work with others (fun!).
  • Speaking up helps me sharpen my ideas & live my values.
  • I like making slides!
  • The panic is becoming more manageable with practice.

Public speaking panic tips

These are things that have helped me reduce the panic. I didn’t do them all at once. I just focused on one or two at a time during the weeks before I had a presentation due. Hopefully they help you too!

Long before you have to speak in public:

  • Notice how you feel when other people speak and make mistakes. If you’re judgmental, try to be kind. If you’re kind, imagine other people extending that same kindness to you when you speak.
  • Reframe the nervous energy as energy that will be good for your presentation. You can channel it as excitement, passion, etc.
  • Meditation and breathing exercises to reduce anxiety in general.
  • Find low-stakes situations to practice in, like asking questions at events and facilitating small breakout sessions.
  • Develop a pre-speaking ritual so that subconsciously, you’ll feel more calm when you do have to speak. One exercise is to feel your feet on the ground and the weight of your hands before you walk to a podium. (The book Talk Power explains this more. I’m just talking on Zoom and don’t follow the whole thing — but the basic idea is to focus on a neutral/grounding feeling in your body instead of the physical feelings that you associate with panic).

Once you know you have to speak in public:

  • Tell your team and colleagues about your fears. In my experience, everyone’s been supportive and understanding. Many people have the same fear.
  • Practice speaking to a fake zoom grid (start with small ones first).
  • Think of how great you’ll feel after the presentation is over (visualize yourself surviving & celebrating after the event — see Mel Robbins, she calls it an anchor thought, from 7:00-11:00).

After speaking in public:

  • Keep a list of when you speak or present. Note what went well — is the anxiety improving? Did the audience respond positively? Did you get any positive feedback? What did you get out of the experience?
  • Notice when you’re not afraid to speak. For example, maybe when you’re leading a meeting or introducing people at an event or giving a toast among friends.
  • Celebrate every time! You did it! Have a nice meal, take an extra coffee break, watch that movie that you’ve been putting off, buy a new book!

Good luck! You can do it! If you have other advice, please share in the comments.

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