Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking


Everyone is staring at you. Your hands start shaking. Your heart beats faster. Eyes stare at you, a smartphone, or the clock, while you eye the nearest exit. Why shouldn’t you run out of the room? One reason: You’ve got something to say. OK, so maybe it’s a school assignment and you hate the topic or the class, or you hate speaking in public; maybe you’re first to present and you hate being first. The list is endless. But public speaking is a part of life.  It won’t go away after you graduate and neither will the audience.

The first thing to do is to briefly introduce yourself, your topic, and what you’re going to discuss. This is the starting point to helping the presentation go smoothly and end a lot faster.

  • Preparation. The more you know about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, the easier it’ll be to deliver. Research your topic. Make it interesting by presenting contrasting sources and including visual aids. How are you going to say what you need to? 
    • Visual aids. Technology doesn’t always work well. Ensure before you start that the PowerPoint slideshow is working, everything can be seen, the microphone is working, etc.
    • Practice. Not just to get the words right or to time the speech, but to get comfortable speaking in front of an audience. Start with the mirror and then move on to your family and friends. This also helps you become familiar with the words.
    • Feedback. Ask your practice audience to point out where you can improve. Are you talking too fast? Does what you’re saying make sense?
    • Compliment. If you’re really nervous, look your best—wear your favourite shirt or a suit. It’s a great way to make you more comfortable.
    • Relax. Take a deep breath before you speak. It’ll help you manage your pace.
    • Confidence. Own the room as you walk to the front of it. Speak in a clear, commanding voice. Present the best version of yourself.
    • Take your time. How much time is allotted to your presentation? Don’t speak quickly to get it over with and risk losing the audience in the process.
    • Don’t apologize. Public speaking is a challenge for many people. If you make a mistake, just pick up where you left off. If you’re sick or nervous, don’t apologize.
    • Focus on the message. What are you trying to say? Why is it important? You may need to think of a better reason than getting a good grade.
    • Clapping. It’s just polite, but it’s nice to know that no matter how well you do, you’ll end with the rousing sound of applause.
    • A good night’s rest. Consider this part of the preparation, and a way of relaxing your nerves.
    • Learn from others. Politicians, motivators, TedTalks. What do they do that works? What can you incorporate?
    • Know your audience. Who are you talking to? This doesn’t mean you should say what you think they’d like to hear. Think about the language you’re using, what you’re wearing, the visual aids, and what they say about you to your audience.

It’s normal to be nervous before presenting, no matter how much I’ve prepared. But once you start (and take a deep breath), you’ll realize it gets easier.  Just make sure you know what you’re talking about. It’s easy to spot the people who don’t.  Another quick tip is look at the back wall: If you’re nervous about looking at faces, look at the back wall and scan the room when presenting your information. Don’t focus on you. Maybe even try walking around the room. Depending on the topic, it may not be appropriate to talk about your experiences. Again, the best tip is to practice and to remember that nerves are normal.

The final piece of advice is do what works for you! If you want to do something different, then ask the professor. Be yourself.  Make the presentation your own. Who knows, maybe you’ll rule the world one day.