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Public Speaking: Practice Makes Perfect

The path of public speaking is littered with potholes. If you haven’t experienced these potholes personally, chances are you’ve winced and felt tremendous compassion for others who’ve demonstrated these presentation-crippling behaviors…

  • Awkward, lengthy pauses

  • Sentences connected with an endless supply of "ummms"

  • Nervous pacing

  • Pitted shirt

  • Shaky hands and voice

You’re not alone

Your rapid heartbeat as you take the stage is shared by approximately 25% of the population. That means that 1 in 4 of your audience members can compassionately relate to your anxiety. There is even a scientific term for fear of public speaking: glossophobia. Take comfort in knowing your fear is on the radar screen and your audience can empathize!

Anxiety is normal

In addition to your abnormally high heart rate, many nervous presenters also experience rapid, shallow breathing. And our bodies kick in a good dose of adrenaline and cortisol – stress hormones – to help us out. Your anxiety about public speaking is normal. Even seasoned speakers experience butterflies and nervousness. And that is good. These symptoms put us on high alert, readying our bodies for what’s next. The challenge is in harnessing these normal reactions. Here are three things you can do to turn anxiety into productive energy to successfully dodge those potholes:


To reduce your anxiety, it is important to increase your confidence. Your confidence will increase with practice. Many presenters think they’re practicing when they review their slides, remembering what they will say with each one. This is not practice and will not do much to increase your confidence.

Instead, practice exactly as you will present. Stand up. Use the projector. Speak out loud. You need to hear and experience your presentation so that you can increase your comfort in presenting.

Get feedback

If possible, invite a colleague to help you practice. Request specific feedback about content, slides and delivery. Even top ranked, professional athletes have coaches. If you want to be a competent, confident speaker, invite feedback and coaching.

One of the best ways to get immediate feedback is to practice your presentation and videotape it on your smartphone. I know, it’s painful to watch yourself. And not many people like the sound of their recorded voice. What you will learn from watching your own presentation will be invaluable. Take notes as you watch. Then make adjustments to your deck and make mental notes about what to do differently. Replace filler words with pauses. Simplify cluttered slides. Then tape it again. Give yourself credit for the progress you are making.

Prepare physically & mentally

Many of the nervous reactions we experience can be overcome through physical preparation. Try a few of these techniques:

Take care of you

Get a good night’s sleep prior to your presentation. Be sure you are adequately hydrated. Don’t overdo the caffeine! Fuel your body with a light, healthy meal.

Practice deep breathing

Just before you take the stage, close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath. Exhale slowly and envision your anxiety leaving with your breath. Repeat this a few times, focusing on relaxing with each breath.

Focus on your desired results

Remind yourself of what you will accomplish with this presentation. Envision the positive results as though they have already occurred. Focus on empowering self-questions: What’s the best possible outcome? In what ways will this presentation make a difference to others?

Your audience will appreciate the investment you make in improving your presentation skills. Harness your anxiety, avoid the potholes and look forward to your next presentation.

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