Tips for Public Speaking Anxiety: Managing Your Nerves

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Do you suffer from public speaking anxiety? How can you make your nerves work for you, and not against you?

When it comes to public speaking, anxiety comes with the territory—it’s normal to feel anxious when the stakes are high. Moreover, a little anxiety can provide an energy boost, which can be great for your speech. So, you shouldn’t try to eliminate your anxiety, but instead, make it work for you.

Here are some tips for public speaking anxiety and an adrenaline-powered confidence boost.

Managing Your Nerves

Whether you’re a seasoned speaker or not, Anderson says adrenaline comes with the territory. He explains that adrenaline will give you energy and animate your voice. However, in large doses, it can also make you shaky, give you dry mouth, and cause anxiety. 

Here are five tips for public speaking anxiety:

1) Eat something healthy. About an hour before your speech, have a small and healthy meal—even if your nerves convince you that you’re not hungry. You don’t want to be hungry on stage for two reasons: First, you don’t want the audience to hear a growling stomach. Second, adrenaline on an empty stomach can make you feel sick. (Shortform note: Avoid any new foods or spicy foods the day before your speech, as they may upset your stomach or induce an allergic reaction. In the hours leading up to your speech, avoid dairy products as they often cause excess phlegm, which will affect your voice.)

2) Do something physical. If your adrenaline is high enough to make you shaky, do something physical to get rid of the excess. Push-ups, jumping jacks, or a quick lap around the building will help bring your adrenaline down to a manageable level. (Shortform note: Anderson doesn’t say how far in advance you should do this, but we can infer that you should allow for enough cool-down time that you won’t be out of breath when you walk onto the stage.)

3) Hydrate. Five minutes before you speak, drink five or six ounces of water. This is enough to keep dry mouth at bay but not enough to fill your bladder. Have a bottle of water with you during your speech in case your mouth gets dry again. (Shortform note: Even if you’re hydrated, your mouth can still get dry because of nerves. For the stage, experts recommend that you stick to flat, room temperature water—cold water restricts the vocal cords and carbonated water can induce burping.)

4) Breathe into your stomach. In the minutes before speaking, focus on your breathing. Make sure the oxygen is going all the way down into your stomach (shallow breathing does more harm than good) and hold it for a moment or two before exhaling. (Shortform note: Too much oxygen in the blood raises its pH and leads to dizziness, tingling, anxiety, and chest pain. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, some extra carbon dioxide could cure it. Holding your breath for a few seconds before exhaling (or breathing into a paper bag) will allow your blood’s oxygen-C02 ratio to rebalance.) 

5) Speak to friends in the audience. Find a few friendly faces in the audience, make eye contact, and speak directly to them until your nerves settle. (Shortform note: Picturing your audience in their underwear is an old piece of advice that’s no longer recommended. Not only can it cause you to make a strange facial expression, but it will prevent you from making eye contact (and connecting) with anyone in the audience.)

In addition to these tips, Anderson advises you to remember that the speech is not about you, it’s about your ideas. As you speak, keep this in mind to remain grounded. And if all else fails (if you begin stuttering or your mind goes blank), Anderson says to simply tell the audience you’re nervous. They want to root for you, and admitting that you’re experiencing nerves only makes you more relatable. (Shortform note: Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous, and those who are liars.” Nobody in the audience is going to judge you for feeling nervous.)

Warm Up Your Vocals in Five Minutes

Even with thorough preparation, the stress of public speaking can cause your voice to falter or crack. Communication coach Tricia Homer has a warm-up that she teaches to her clients, and the first five steps specifically affect your voice. Ten to 20 minutes before speaking, she recommends you do each of the following (in this order) for one minute:

Practice deep breathing. Stand balanced on both feet, inhale through your nose, hold the breath for as long as you can, then exhale slowly through the mouth. Deep breathing lowers your blood pressure, steadies your heart rate, and activates your nervous system.

Focus on your resonance. Your voice can resonate in your nose, throat, chest, or diaphragm. Practice speaking and focus on where the vibrations are coming from. Try to push the sound down in your body as low as you can. 

Circle your arms. Swing your arms in large circles and when they reach the bottom, shout out “ha!” Visualize your voice flying across the room like a ball through the air. 

Warm-up your face. Stretch the muscles in your face by massaging them, making silly faces, and sticking out your tongue.

Do a tongue twister. Practice articulation by choosing any tongue twister and repeating it for a full minute. Some suggestions: “red leather, yellow leather” and “unique New York”.

After warming up your vocals, Homer offers two additional tips before going on stage: 

Tense your muscles: Squeeze all the muscles in your body, hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat. This will help release any stress-related tension you’re holding in your body.

Stretch your body: Shake out your arms and legs, move around a bit, and do some light stretching. If your body is loose when you go onto the stage, you’ll have less of an urge to pace or rock back and forth.
Tips for Public Speaking Anxiety: Managing Your Nerves

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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