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How to handle public speaking when you have anxiety

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Public speaking anxiety is a common social fear, but there are ways to overcome it. Photo: Getty

Speaking in public isn’t always easy for the most confident person, but if you struggle with anxiety, it can seem almost impossible.

Public speaking anxiety, also known as glossophobia, is one of the most commonly reported social fears and can lead to palpitations, shaking, blushing, an upset stomach and other symptoms. Whether it’s a hall packed with people or even just presenting something to your team, standing up in front of a group and making yourself heard can be a serious challenge.

So if the idea of public speaking brings you out in a sweat, is there anything you can do?

“It is common to feel worried and nervous before and during public speaking, but if the stresses get unmanageable and lead to anxiety, you can use some techniques which may help to ease the anxiety you might be feeling,” says David Brudo, CEO and co-founder at mental health and personal development platform and app Remente.

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Make sure you are prepared

First, it’s important to be well prepared to avoid the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ feeling. “Do this by reading up on the topic as much as possible and memorising the first things you wish to say – this will make you feel more confident and hopefully more relaxed,” Brudo says.

“In order to not be overwhelmed with the amount of information and things to do before a presentation, it helps to break down the tasks in smaller, manageable tasks. For example, to first collect information, then prepare the talking notes, and lastly design the presentation,” he explains.

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Rather than writing down the whole talk word for word, some people may find it easier to write down the key points on numbered cards or a piece of paper. If you lose your train of thought, having the main point in front of you can help – rather than just reading from a script.

Rehearsing is important and will give you more confidence to deliver the speech. You can also time yourself to see if you are talking too quickly, which is easily done if you are nervous.

Think about your audience

Brudo advises to think carefully about your audience – and says it might be helpful to create a dialogue rather than a monologue, as it will lead to a better discussion and a more relaxed atmosphere.

“Aim to speak for the first minute on your own, and then you use digital tools to help you interact with the audience, such as the presentation platform Mentimeter that allows you to take an opinion poll in real-time and show interesting content on the screen,” he says.

Think about how you feel

“If you are feeling anxiety creeping up on you during a presentation, the best thing to do is to assess your physical state,” Bruno says. “Do you feel comfortable? Do you need a sip of water? Or perhaps you are too cold or too hot, in which case adjust your clothing accordingly.

“Additionally, if you feel that your hands are shaking, you can try squeezing your thigh muscles, as that can stop the shaking and help you keep calm,” he adds.

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Visit the area beforehand

It’s a good idea to try and visit the conference room, hall or classroom where you will be presenting your speech or talk. Being accustomed to the environment and familiar with the venue, as well as being able to plan the audio-visual elements ahead of time, will give you less to worry about on the day. You can also visualise where the audience will be, so it will be less of a shock to the system when you have to speak there.

Have a plan for the morning

Putting together a routine for managing anxiety on the day of a speech or presentation can help put you in a calm frame of mind. This might involve getting up early, going for a walk and having a good breakfast, or going for a jog – or meeting a friend who can give you a confidence boost beforehand.

Seek professional help

If anxiety or social anxiety impacts your day-to-day, it’s important to seek professional support. Your GP will be able to advise on the best course of action for you. You can contact the mental health charity Mind for advice and support too.

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