A Formula for Overcoming Stage Fright

The fear of speaking in front of a group has actually hindered individuals from advancing their careers.  I have had clients turn down promotions because the new position involved giving presentations or leading team meetings.  

Most people experience some degree of stage fright; their adrenaline increases, palms sweat, mouths dry up, hearts race, and minds go blank.  This is a normal reaction to this high-stress situation; the body is trying to flee the focus and scrutiny of the audience.  In nature, it is safer to stay with the pack because being the center of attention has been a historically dangerous position.  Unfortunately, our bodies still prepare for flight, even as our minds struggle to deliver a polished and pleasant presentation.      

Thankfully, reducing stage fright is possible.  Below is a formula that will allow you to lower your anxiety through a series of preparations:


Prepare materially

Gather and organize your information several days before your speech.  Practice saying your speech aloud so you will be comfortable with the material, especially if you are using visuals.  If possible, give your speech in front of a friend or two who will give you honest, constructive feedback.  Be sure to time your practice performance so you can adjust the amount of material accordingly.  Also, practice answering possible audience questions.

By practicing your speech aloud and responding to questions, you will have the confidence that comes from knowing you are ready to perform.


Prepare mentally

Think positive thoughts.  Erase any negative messages that may creep into your consciousness.  Say instead: “I can do this!  I have practiced, and I am ready.”   Remember that your listeners want to hear your information.  They know that public speaking is difficult, so they admire you for your efforts. 

Many people (myself included) assume the role of a teacher when giving presentations.  This allows us to focus on the material as we continually help our “students” understand it.  If this is a comfortable role for you, you might try emulating a favorite trainer, professor, or speaker.  Smile, speak loudly, and teach your “students” the information they need to learn.


Prepare physically.

Warm up your mouth so that you can enunciate clearly.  I do vocal warm-up exercises as I drive to an event.  I like to say “supercalifragilistickexpealidoshus” (the biggest word you ever heard from Mary Poppins) several times, plus I repeat these key sounds: t, d, l, k, p, s, th, ing, I, and er.  Stretch your mouth open and sideways, warm up your tongue, and get your vocal cords vibrating.  Practice any tongue twisters you like, such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” or “She sells seashells by the seashore.” 

Also, be sure to breathe deeply.  I take three long, deep breaths right before it is my turn to speak; the breathing motion relaxes me, and the oxygen enhances my thinking.  Some people channel their nervous energy by tensing and relaxing leg muscles while waiting, but I have found deep breathing works best for me.


After speaking to groups for over 20 years, I can verify that most audiences are filled with kind, appreciative listeners.  While giving your presentation, find a few smiling audience members, speak to them as you “teach” the material, and you will do fine. 


Copyright 2019 Professional English, Inc.


Maureen Archer