10 Quick Hacks That Will Ease Your Fear of Public Speaking in the Workplace

public speaking

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, can range in severity from a mildly disruptive anxiety to a full-fledged, crippling disorder that can cause serious disruptions to your professional life. In fact, according to the National Social Anxiety Center, glossophobia is the most common phobia, even more common than the fear of death, and it affects about 73% of the population.

But for most people, there’s still no avoiding public speaking. While sales people, marketers, managers or folks in highly visible leadership positions obviously find themselves in front of a crowd more frequently, even the most cloistered researchers must at some point present their findings to a committee or to colleagues.

There are programs, courses, books, and a mountain of resources available for people who wish to overcome their fear of public speaking. Here are a few of the most useful tips we’ve found – things you can implement or put into practice now that will give you immediate results. These 10 “tricks” or public speaking “hacks” are especially helpful if you’re preparing for a last-minute speaking engagement and scrambling to calm your nerves.

1. Write out notes

The more prepared you are and comfortable with your material, the less anxious you’ll feel. It’s just that simple. And, while you don’t want to “read” your entire presentation, having some notes close by can alleviate the anxiety that you’ll have a “brain freeze” in the middle of your talk.

2. Get there early

Don’t underestimate the power of getting physically comfortable with the room or your surroundings can have at setting your mind at ease before a speaking engagement. It eliminates a few unknowns – like what the room will look like, where you’ll be standing, what kind of technology you’ll be working with, or where the audience will be seated. If you familiarize yourself with all of this before people start arriving, you’ll feel less anxious and uncomfortable about trying to take it all in at once.

3. Imagine the worst

What are you actually afraid of? Forgetting your material? Passing out? Saying something unintelligent? Being judged by your appearance or habits? Try to identify your own “worst case scenario,” then (although it’s highly unlikely that it will come to pass) make a hypothetical plan in your mind for what to do if it actually happens (again, it almost surely won’t, but that’s not the point here).

Visualize your worst fear taking place. What will you do? What’s the very worst that can happen? What will the consequences be? In doing this, you can take comfort in knowing you have a back-up plan (even though you won’t need it) if the worst happens, and you’ll also realize that this scenario is likely not a career-ender and won’t ruin your life. You may be uncomfortable for a few minutes. That’s it.

4. Focus on the content 

Rather than letting your mind wander to your creaky voice or sweaty palms or even to the audience in front of you, exercise laser focus on your material. There must be, after all, a good reason you’re speaking on a particular subject, so remember the passion or interest you have in your material and don’t allow your mind to wander fears that could make you feel self-conscious or even self-aware. If you have a particular fear about how others might perceive (or judge) you, you’ll want to work extra hard at concentrating only on your material and ideas.

And, keep in mind, you will probably make a mistake or stumble over your words here or there. Prepare yourself ahead of time that this will absolutely happen – train yourself to expect it – and that it’s perfectly normal and ok. Then, when it does, it won’t throw you off your game so much because you knew it would happen!  

5. Learn a few relaxation techniques

Harvard Medical School explains 6 relaxation techniques that can easily be done at work or right before a presentation. Each takes just a few minutes and can help you to manage the uncomfortable physical sensations caused by anxiety and fear around speaking in public. There are also several relaxation apps you can download that will help guide you through some exercises right before your event. Also, try deep breathing relaxation techniques immediately before you take the stage. While there are multiple variations of breathing exercises you can do, most typically go something like this:

  • sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and feet on the floor
  • Inhale from your abdomen counting to 4 or 5
  • hold your breath for about 5 seconds
  • exhale counting 8 or 10 seconds
  • repeat this at least 10 times, or until your heart rate slows down

6. Pause before you start speaking

In general, try not to be afraid of silences either before you start speaking or even during your presentation. Silences are a natural part of our speech pattern, and a pause here and there can add emphasis or even give the audience a moment to digest your information.

Pausing even for just a few seconds before you start speaking will make you feel (and appear) more in control and more confident. It also is a gentle reminder to yourself to slow down (your heart rate, your breathing, your racing mind) and focus.

7. Talk to someone in the audience beforehand

When you can, before you start your presentation find at least one person in the audience, a colleague even, to chat with, even bringing up some of the material you’ll be covering in your speech. When you take the podium, imagine that you’re just continuing the conversation with this person.

If you humanize your audience or personalize your speech, you may feel less anxious. This works especially well if you’re speaking to a large crowd that, for someone who fears public speaking, can look like a sea of intimidating faces and judgy eyes all focused on you (they’re not, of course, but that’s how it feels).

8. Invite audience participation 

Another way to “humanize” your audience is to turn your presentation into a dialogue, not just a speech. Invite them to participate – even from the very beginning if you can – by asking questions or injecting comments. You can even build questions for the audience into your speech.

This is one of the best ways to quell your nervousness in front of a group because the back-and-forth interaction will quickly put your mind at ease and make it feel like you’re having a conversation with the audience, rather than being the only focus in the room.

9. Remember, it’s not all about you

Most people who have a fear of public speaking (majority of the population!) have an irrational perception that each person in the audience is hyper-focused on them, studying their every word, move, gesture, nervous tick, article of clothing, feature, crack in their voice… you get the idea. Remind yourself before you step in front of a group that your perception of the audience’s attention on you is just that – a perception. They aren’t nearly as focused on your every move as you feel they are.

10. Don’t fight your nerves

The anxiety you feel when you step in front of a crowd can be traced back to adrenaline, the hormone that triggers the “flight or fight” response and gives you this nervous or anxious feeling. As most people already know, adrenaline is your body’s natural emergency response system. It kicks your body into overdrive when it perceives an imminent threat. But, while we all know that presenting a PowerPoint presentation isn’t a life-threatening situation (for the most part, anyhow), the adrenaline surging through your anxious body induces the same kind of physiological response as if you were in real danger.

Instead of fighting this natural, instinctual response, try embracing it, understanding it, and even using it to your advantage. Your racing heart, clammy and shaking hands, trembling voice, and twitching limbs are all signs that adrenaline is doing what nature intended – preparing you for a challenge. So, instead of letting these admittedly uncomfortable sensations get the best of you and pull your focus away from your material, embrace them as your body’s innate way for getting you ready to do something big and important!

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