Public Speaking 101: Overcoming Stage Fright

Hi my name is Cady Stokes and i’m the editor for the AEA Newsletter. Getting your message across can be easier said than done – especially when there’s a room full of people staring expectantly at you. Stage fright is more common than not, and can be difficult to overcome. According to the ADAA, public speaking is said to be the biggest fear reported by many American adults.

You may have your speech posture perfectly practiced, personalized and planned to a ‘T’. But the second you get on that stage, it’s like you’d never had anything written at all! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are a few tips on public speaking to ensure your next presentation is on point.

Cool trick: What is your ultimate goal?

Yes, your goal is (of course) to deliver your message successfully. But let’s think more in-depth. What are you hoping your audience takes away? What do you want them to learn or what do you want to get accomplished? While preparing to speak, keep this in mind and block everything else out. This way, there’s much less room for distraction and anxiety as you already know what the goal is. Keep your intention positive and focused. Don’t psych yourself out!

Now, this doesn’t mean practicing until it’s burned into your brain. It’s about securely knowing your goal(s) and doing what you can to achieve it. Take that nervous energy and channel it. Another good tip is to focus until right before your performance, then clear your head by listening to a song you like or reading an uplifting poem. Positive distractions are okay!

Cool trick: Shift your focus.

Picking a focal point is the oldest trick in the book for curing stage fright. And it really can be very helpful. Sometimes looking an audience member in the eyes can completely throw you off your game. You want to make sure that you’re not staring at a wall your entire presentation, though. So beforehand, it’s good to get to know your environment. Walk around your speaking space and get comfortable. Pick not just one, but a few different focal points around the room. This way, you can shift your focus without getting distracted.

Cool trick: Relax!

Although the idea of saying your entire speech as fast as humanly to get it over with can be tempting, you probably shouldn’t do that. When you begin to rush through your presentation, it loses its meaning and your points don’t come across as vital as you’d like them to. The most important thing you can do is relax. Measure your breathing; take even breaths as you go. Oxygen is your friend! Move your body and walk around as you see fit. Speak like yourself; nobody wants to watch someone read off of notecards for a half hour. Speak to your audience as if they are a friend or colleague. Take your time.

While public speaking is not always easy, it’s something you can improve on with a little effort, practice, and focus.


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2 thoughts on “Public Speaking 101: Overcoming Stage Fright”

  1. Hi Cady, I really enjoyed your article. I have often heard that public speaking is the number one fear. I remember Jerry Seinfeld making a joke that people fear being the person giving the eulogy at a funeral more than they fear being the one in the coffin!

    I am a college professor and I had to deal with stage fright myself and I still am faced with it at various times. I do find myself getting overwhelm with thoughts, getting ahead of myself on the material, getting distracted by a student whispering, feeling self conscious wondering if a giggle was directed at me and so on. Yet your advice about keeping the goal in mind and blocking out the rest seems easy to manage and if done successfully would eliminate a lot of the triggers to my anxiety.

    I can agree based on my experience, that finding focal point does help, I often look at the back wall in various spots and like to pace back and forth so I am not tempted to read the screen or allow my knees to shake!

    The longer I do this job the less nervous I become and the more comfortable I get the more I find myself joking around and going off script, being flexible to unexpected discussions that arise and that makes my lectures more enjoyable and makes me a more engaging speaker.

    Thank you for sharing your tips and I will be sure to try and slow down next time, focus on my breath, and distract my mind with my goal or at least a positive distraction and not allow my mind to wander and cause my stage fright to increase!

  2. I’ve taught, lectured, trained, and facilitated for decades. Being prepared is essential: know your audience (interest, expectations, attention span) and think of the experience as an opportunity to share rather than something to survive. While content is critical, two other items to consider are your voice and your clothing. Voice includes pitch, speed, articulation, and volume. Be sure all are pleasing to your listeners. Determine whether you will be using (or need to use) amplification. Most people know what type of clothing to wear in a given speaking situation, but check whether your clothing moves well and is comfortable. Avoid jewelry that glitters or clinks, accessories that don’t stay in place, or misfitting garments. Most importantly, have fun!

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