Tag Archives: Public speaking


5 Tips to Help You Manage Your Public Speaking Anxiety

davisMiller3Many students dread making public presentations. Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking and speech anxiety, is one of the most common phobias, effecting as much as 75% of the population. Yet giving presentations and other forms of public speaking is an important part of developing professionally. Therefore it is important for students to overcome these fears and to find ways to excel at public speaking.

Here are 5 tips for students to help overcome a fear of public speaking:

1. Know your material. It is important to know the material you are presenting well and to be able to speak fluently about the subject matter. Having a firm grasp and understanding of what you are presenting will help you feel more comfortable during your presentation and will also project confidence to your audience. Be sure that you understand the material being presented inside and out. Come up with potential questions that the audience might ask and be prepared with your answers. Again, the better you know the subject matter, the more confident you’ll feel.

2. Think positively. We’ve all heard the benefits of positive thinking. These benefits can also apply to your presentation. Going into the presentation with a positive outlook will not only give you a boost of confidence, but that will also be projected to the audience. Thinking positively in general has been known to lower stress levels. Focusing on a positive reaction to your presentation and successful outcomes will help reduce your anxiety around public speaking. Do you remember the last time you achieved something amazing? How did that feel? Use those emotions to your advantage and make them your weapon on stage. Focus on these good emotions and try to avoid thinking of things that might go wrong during your presentation.

Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will. –Zig Ziglar

3. Learn from others. Public speeches come in a wealth of forms: Seminar series, conference talks, journal club meetings, student presentations and more. One can learn a lot of things from observing these talks. Make a point to observe others in public speaking roles and consider: Which speech did I enjoy and why? Which speaker was most appealing? What made one speech better than another? After assessing other speakers, think about your presentation style, and how you can imitate some of the characteristics of the speakers you preferred.

4. Be aware of your body language. Non-verbal communication is an important skill to master when giving presentations. Your body language may convey unintended messages to your audience. For example, excessive fidgeting shows nervousness and conveys a sense of anxiousness. When practicing your speech, do so in front of a mirror. Notice any repetitive movements you may be making. Make a concerted effort to avoid fidgeting, shuffling, or any other movements that may indicate to the audience that you are nervous. There are several tricks to help you avoid making these unconscious nervous movements  (e.g., mindfulness, holding a pen or paperclip firmly when speaking, and so forth). Avoiding these movements should help you as the presenter to feel a sense of calmness and ease during the presentation.

5. Practice. One of the most important things you can do to lessen anxiety before a big presentation is to practice. For one, this will allow you to find any hiccups in the presentation that you’d like to avoid. If there is a phrase or sentence that causes you to become tongue-tied, toss it or change it. Record yourself. Hear how the presentation sounds. Practice in front of a mirror and in front of friends. Allow others to give you honest feedback about the presentation. Determine what your strengths are in presenting and focus on those, and work on areas that need improvement.

 DavisMiller2You can do this!

Humans are often terrified that our deepest fears and emotions will be noticed by other people. We sometimes believe that they’ll uncover these fears through our tone of voice, sweaty faces, or accelerated breathing. Fortunately, we can give ourselves a boost of confidence by becoming comfortable with what we’re trying to convey.

It is common to be nervous when giving public speeches. Many people have this fear, so know that you are not alone! Public speaking is not a natural-born skill for anyone, nor is it even a miraculous talent for most people. Consider it a learned ability that can be mastered over time by trying some of these tips. Visit the London Speaker Bureau for more information about public speaking.

Editor’s note: Davis Miller is a student in psychology at the University of Alberta. 


Speak Up: Giving a Memorable Presentation

Business-MeetingGrowing up, I dreaded public speaking. Despite my efforts to keep a safe distance in the back of the classroom, presentation day would eventually rear its ugly head.

Heart racing. Palms sweating. Butterflies fluttering.

Head down, I would make my way to the front and read my presentation verbatim from a stack of meticulously crafted index cards. I didn’t dare make eye contact with my peers. I got through my presentation as quickly as possible and hurried back to my seat.

Over the years, I have learned to quiet my inner teenager and trust myself. With age and experience, I’ve become less afraid of making mistakes. I’m by no means an “expert” speaker. My presentation style and delivery is under a constant state of construction. Like any skill, public speaking takes time and practice.

I don’t think my story is unique. I know many people who also fear public speaking. However, effective interpersonal and public communication is vital in our field. In graduate school, I encourage you to seek opportunities to enhance your communication skills. Challenge yourself to engage the audience beyond the podium (not behind it), experiment with different visual aids, seek feedback, or present a poster at a conference. Small steps can make a big difference. My belief is graduate school is inevitably shaping us into the practitioners, researchers, and psychologists we will become.

Below you will find some tips and resources that have helped ease my fear of public speaking. This is certainly not an exhaustive list so please comment on this post with any additional ideas. Cheers!

1. Make it a Conversation
I find it easier to talk with a friend over coffee than speak in front of a group. I like to apply this concept to presentations. I pretend I’m conversing with a friend. This results in a more natural, extemporaneous, and genuine delivery.

2. Speak with Intent
If you exude interest in your topic, your enthusiasm will come across to the audience. When planning, I like to think about what kind of presentation I would want to experience as an audience member.

3. Step away from the PowerPoint
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE PowerPoint. Designing a PowerPoint or other visual aid allows me to express my creativity. Too often, however, I see presenters rely on their visual aid by reading directly from text-heavy slides.

My recommendation is to keep bullet points short and sweet. There are several formulas out there for the number of words each slide should have and the number of minutes you should spend on each slide. Personally, I don’t ascribe to these rules. I see memorable presentations as being more fluid and less black-and-white.

Ask questions of your audience, incorporate interesting pictures into your slides, and demonstrate appropriate eye contact. Have fun with your presentation. Remember, a visual aid should complement–not substitute for–a good presentation.

4. Seek Feedback
Our hard-earned graduate degrees will be made of blood, sweat, and feedback. Graduate school is teaching me to embrace constructive feedback from my peers and professors. Practice your presentation in front of a trusted friend, colleague, or family member and seek their feedback openly. If you’re feeling especially daring, ask them to record your presentation and then watch yourself. This can be one of the best ways of identifying verbal and nonverbal habits you may be unaware of.


Presentation Zen

TED Talks

JMU Communication Center

Talking the Talk: Tips on Giving a Successful Conference Presentation (Abby Adler), APA

How to Give a Great Presentation: Timeless Advice from a Legendary Adman, 1981 (Maria Popova), Brain Pickings

10 Things You Can Do Now to Make Public Speaking Effortless (Robert Locke), Lifehack

Editor’s Note: Melissa Foster is a second year doctoral student from Virginia Beach, VA. She is studying counseling psychology at West Virginia University.