To tame speech anxiety, be selfless

If you’re nervous about an upcoming speech, Joey Asher has four harsh words of advice: Stop being so selfish!

In the days and hours leading up to your presentation, you may wallow in anxious thoughts such as, “I dread this” or “I hope I don’t look stupid.” Asher, an Atlanta-based speech coach, calls this “selfish self-talk.”

Instead of dwelling on your own self-perceived shortcomings or fears of having others judge (or reject) you, shift your perspective. Realize that your speech is not about you; it’s about your listeners.

By focusing on how you can help them, you’ll look past your jitters and concentrate on what really counts. Asher suggests that you give yourself a pep talk before you deliver a speech by mentally saying, “I’m going to go out there and help these people today.”

Once you start thinking that way, you can prepare to win over the crowd. You’ll skip fruitless, self-involved questions (“What will they think of me?”, “Will they accept me?”) in favor of audience-centered questions (“How can I present this material in the best way?”, “What takeaways matter most to this group?”).

Asher recalls an author waiting to go on camera for a CNN interview about her book. The anchor checked in on her 10 minutes beforehand and asked, “How are you doing?”

“I’m a nervous wreck,” she replied.

The anchor looked at her intently and instructed, “I need you to get over that anxiety. I don’t want you to ruin my show.”

His blunt comment snapped her out of her funk.

Reminding yourself that the audience comes first—and your job is to help them—can redirect your nervousness into positive energy.

— Adapted from “To Deal with Your Fear of Public Speaking, Focus on Helping the Audience,” Joey Asher,