University of Hawai'i Maui Community College Speech Department

Speech Anxiety:
Tame the Extra Energy

"What's the Worst that could happen?"

If you are afraid of speaking because you have a voice like a rusty bucket of broken glass being stirred with a chainsaw, I have only one word for you; Ross Perot!

As a Public Speaking instructor I readily come in contact with students that are terrified of speaking in front of the class. Some speakers tremble and some uncontrollably shake. Some speakers talk extremely fast and some go blank. For some speakers it's their hearts that race and others become red in the face.

How many of you have similar anxieties about speaking in front of a group? Many people do. In fact, the fear of public speaking has been listed as greater than the fear of death (but not as much as the fear of snakes).

The following material includes tips and advice to help you reduce your anxiety associated with speaking in public.

Why are we afraid of speaking in public?

The reason most people get anxious when required to speak to a group is that they are afraid of looking foolish or stupid in front of many of their peers and important people. They are afraid that their mind will go blank or that their lack of speaking skills will lower the opinion others have of them.

Being humiliated can destroy a person's ego and confidence. It can really ruin your day too.

Steps you can take to reduce the fear.

In most cases the fear or nervousness is just extra energy. This "extra energy" can be incorporated in the speech if it is controlled, however, you first must attempt to reduce the fear. The easiest way to do this is through preparation.

There are several steps and tricks to use to learn how to reduce the fear of making a mistake or looking foolish when you speak to a group:

  • Be well-prepared in what you do before a group
  • Have a backup, in case you forget what you want to say
  • Realize that the audience is on your team -- they want you to succeed
  • Practice, practice, practice

In the following material, I will explain each of those points.

Be well prepared

One of the best ways to make sure you don't make foolish mistakes is to be well prepared before you speak to a group. This doesn't mean to memorize exactly what you plan to say. Rather, it is to have a good outline of facts and information that you can talk about.

A professional in any field does not leave anything to chance before a big game, important performance, or critical presentation to corporate executives. Strategies are laid out, all material is ready, contingency plans are made, and every detail is taken care of.

When we don't prepare -- we prepare to fail. When you are well prepared, chances of failure or goof-ups are greatly reduced. You feel more relaxed and sure of yourself, because you have all the bases covered.

Have a backup

 It is worthwhile to bring along a "security blanket" or "safety net" in case something goes wrong in your presentation. For example, having your speech outlined on some sort of cards or pages is a good backup in case you have a mental lapse. Referring to your notes is certainly acceptable to refresh your memory.

Of course, though, you should be prepared enough that you don't have to completely depend on your notes for your material. Don't use your notes/speaking outline as a crutch, but to keep you on track.

Reduce your fear of your audience

Speaking to peers, employers, instructors, or dignitaries can create fear in a person. This fear can be reduced by visualizing the people as equals. Think about your audience as being on "your team."

Become one with your audience. Don't build an artificial wall between you and your audience. Direct eye contact can create a oneness between you and your audience. Use the abundance of energy that your audience is capable of projecting to you. Use the Force Luke. Let the audience be with you.

Remember that they are on your team and they are there to hear what you have to say.


Even if you know your material very well, practice is extremely important. The more you give a talk, the more automatic it becomes, the more energy it can have, and the more confidence you have in your abilities to give the speech.

Practice out loud; alone; to small groups; to friends; to relatives; to strangers; to pets; to roommates. Practice. Practice. Practice. Now some people say that Practice makes Perfect. I believe that Perfect Practice makes Perfect. So treat your practice just like you treat the speech on speech day. For example if you want to have energy and enthusiasm on speech day, then you will want to Practice with energy and enthusiasm.

The way to reduce the fear, nervousness, and anxiety of speaking to a group is to make sure you are well prepared, have some backup material (note cards or a speaking outline) ready in case you need it, visualize your audience as part of your team, and practice (the way you want to give the speech on speech day) as much as you can before you speak.

What do you think?
Do you have any questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or speaking tips that you would like to share? If so, contact me, Ron St. John, with your feedback. I will get back to you as soon as possible. Be sure to state the title or subject matter, so I know to what material you are referring. Thank you for visiting the Public Speakers' Sites!

The Public Speakers' Resources
|Public Speakers' Page | Speech 151 | Speech 251 | Public Speaking Resources|
|Supporting Your Speech | Sample Speeches | Speech Practice | Speaking Tips|
|Speech Anxiety | Team Presentations | Group Communication | Interviewing|
|Using Visual Aids | ESL Links | Anonymous Feedback | Ron St. John|
|The Learning Center | MCC Library | Maui Language Institute|
|Distance Education Academic Support Services|
|The Ho'oulu OnLine (Student Newspaper)|
|The University of Hawai'i at Manoa|

Page Designer: Ron St. John
Copyright 2002 - Ka Leo Kumu
Last Revised: January 16, 2002