Overcoming the fear of public speaking
Updated: May 20
Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a new section dedicated to youth experience with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This will be a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post has been written by our Community Education intern, Anne, a 21-year-old psychology student.
Being scared of speaking publicly – also known as Glossophobia – is a common fear amongst individuals. If you have ever felt this before, you know that it may not only physically take over you but can also take a toll on your mental wellbeing. With that said, there are strategies you can incorporate to help overcome this fear.
Recently I encountered this rush of fear as I presented to a group of peers and professors through a zoom meeting. This was a practice final presentation where we had to share the work we had done within the course. Prior to this, I wrote out an abstract to read off of, and did some research to support my statements. As my turn to share approached, my heart started to rapidly beat, and my palms became sweaty and started increasingly shaking. In addition to the physical signs of fear, my mind became consumed by unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that others could notice my anxiety and might be judging me, as is common with social anxiety as well. The silence of my pauses to catch my breath only added to my heightened stress levels causing my voice to become robotic and cracking, almost sounding as if I were about to cry. As a result, I could not complete my presentation even though I had an 8-minute presentation written out in front of me. This showed me that I needed to find a solution to my fear to reach my full potential within academic classes as well as future occupations.
Below are some ideas and techniques that I found helpful in overcoming my fear of public speaking and dealing with overall anxiety.
Research: My first step was analysing what could have gone wrong within my practice presentation and highlighting the root cause to this issue. I realised through this that I needed to research my topic further, and in more depth to gain a stronger understanding and confidence when relaying the information. If you are more knowledgeable on what you are presenting, then you are more likely to stay on track and eliminate many mistakes you could make if you got lost through reading strictly off a script.
Organisation: I found that reading off a script was extremely robotic and made it easy to lose my place since all my points were laid out on a sheet of paper. To manage this, I chose to use flash cards as a new way of reading my points. The flash cards not only helped differentiate what to say for each part, but it also provided me with a chance to take a deep breath and organised pauses in between ideas.
Practice: Once you have researched and organised your ideas throughout your presentation, it is important to constantly practice your speech. Ongoing practice will not only make you more knowledgeable on your presentation, but it will also help you realise what may still need work within your presentation. As uncomfortable as it may be to hear your own voice, video or even vocal recordings may be beneficial to utilise throughout your practices in order to look back and see what might need change and what may have been done well. If you are using visuals or virtual slides within your presentation, practice will help to point out grammatical or formatting errors that may cause stress if seen within the final production.
Calm your mind: One thing to note is that this step is much easier said than done, therefore it is okay to have struggles or difficulties at first. Unhelpful thoughts of failure or judgement from your peers may hold you back from relaying a confident message within your presentation, but it may also take a toll on your overall wellbeing. Practicing mindfulness and strategies like deep breathing and grounding to clear your mind prior to the final production can be beneficial to avoid a clutter of unwanted thoughts that could affect your hard work. Practicing mindfulness can give us the strength to calm our minds and focus on the basics instead of overwhelming our thoughts.
While these points are the ones that helped me throughout my experiences with public speaking, other people may find that some work better than others and that is ok. Adam, a 22-year-old student shared a few coping skills he utilises when looking to improve his mental health during stressful situations. He revealed that he engages in “sleep, eating well, exercising, and talking to others about subjects unrelated to the anxious topic. I have found that reducing anxiety often comes down to very basic things, which can be annoying when you are looking for a fancy solution to it”. Not everyone has the same path to success and finding the coping mechanisms that work best for you can not only help you with tasks like this, but other life stressors you may encounter that trigger a similar reaction. In addition, I realised that acknowledging that public speaking was a challenge for me, and turning to family, friends, and even teachers for support, helped me to overcome this challenge.