Here’s a three-step plan that can help you battle the fear of public speaking. You won’t make all the anxiety go away, but at least you can prepare for it and devise strategies to make it work for you, not against you.
1. Visualize a triumphant finale. In the days before your speech, imagine yourself uttering the last sentence of your speech and basking in rousing applause. Rehearse that last remark in a mirror so that you have it down cold. See yourself in the very room where you’re scheduled to give your talk—the chairs filled with people, the artwork on the walls, etc.
2. Keep busy. In the hour before your speech, your fear level will soar. That’s totally normal, so don’t worry. Experienced speakers report that the five minutes leading up to their presentation are the worst. After they get over that initial hump and start the actual speech, they relax and largely forget that they’re nervous.
Rather than sit around letting yourself get the jitters, fill the hour before your speech with lots of activity. Talk on the phone, complete a report, read a new pot-boiler—whatever it takes to divert your attention temporarily.
3. Release nervous energy. Don’t bottle up your anxiety. Unleash it in the form of physical movements, from hand gestures to lively facial expressions. If you stand ramrod straight and don’t move a muscle, you’ll sound tight and look even tighter.
If you like to pace, wait until transitions between your main points to take a few steps; this way, you visually reinforce that you’re moving from idea to idea. You can even wiggle your toes if you’re really nervous—no one in the audience will notice that!