I'm Terrified of Public Speaking: Here's How I Cope

public speaking tips for nervous people

Here's the first thing I want to know: how am I going to keep my teeth from chattering once I get up on stage? Later this month, Alicia and I will be flying to sunny Palm Springs, California, for Altitude Summit (a conference for lifestyle and design bloggers). And on the morning of the first day I'll be giving a talk about how Curbly runs a blogging business.

The question I get most often about my job is, "Yeah, but how do you make any money?". So I'm going to try to answer that, as transparently as I can, with full details about how much we charge for sponsored costs and advertising, and what our cost structure is like. It's going to be awesome! You should come!

I'm going to be so nervous!

I've given talks before, I've been on stage (I was, believe it or not, in an improv comedy group in high school, and later, in my early twenties, an aspiring musician, playing coffee shops and small venues). So you'd think that would prepare me, and that I'd be comfortable getting up in front of a lot of people. Far from it: the only benefit it seems to have given me is that I know I'm going to be super nervous.

Here's what happens. A few minutes before I go in front of a group of people to speak, I start getting excited. My heartbeat picks up, my legs start to wiggle. At that point, I realize the nervousness is coming, and I try to think it away. I tell myself there's no need to be nervous, I tell myself to relax, I'm prepared, I know this stuff, I'm confident.

And it's true! I'm am always well-prepared, I do (usually) know my stuff, and I am (well, mostly) confident. That's the problem with nerves: you can't outthink them. At least in my case, it's a physical response, not a mental one. For me, it has no rational basis.

The way I think about it, I'm not actually nervous. It's my body that's nervous. Inside my head, I feel fine. I know I've prepared well, I know I'll do a good job, and I know the people in the audience are always way more forgiving and empathetic that you give them credit for. They want me to do well!.

But sometimes it doesn't matter what you know. Knowing and feeling have different agendas, and for me, in the case of public speaking, feeling kind of goes batshit crazy.

And so I find myself on a stage, or behind a lectern, or at the head of a big conference table, with my stupid teeth threatening to start chattering in the middle of an important presentation, which, by the way, my brain knows I am killing, or I would be if my jaw would just settle down.

What to do? (No seriously: leave me a comment, tell me what works for you, I'm curious).

Well, since I know it isn't a rational problem, what to do is to not try reasoning my way out of it. Instead, it helps to treat it like a physical problem:

  • Breathe
    Don't try to force yourself to breathe deep. you'll just make it worse. Stand up, and stretch your body (in particular your jaw, neck, chest and lower back) while you allow yourself to breathe deeply.
  • Bounce
    Do pushups or jumping jacks backstage. When your body is pumping out adrenaline, it feels better if you aren't sitting quietly on a couch. Let your body vibrate at the same frequency that your heart is beating. Vibrate your abdomen by humming or chanting a low note (ommmmmmm).
  • Posture
    When you're nervous and tense, your posture will reflect (and reinforce) that. Stand with your feet firmly grounded, shoulder width apart, your pelvis tucked and balanced, with a slight curve in your lower back, and shoulder blades pulled back.
  • Laugh
    The whole 'imagine the audience naked' thing doesn't work for a lot of people, but the idea is to get yourself chuckling. Laughter has a way of relaxing your parasympathetic nervous system. Tell yourself a joke, watch the funniest YouTube video of all time, anything that gets you giggling. Even if nothing's funny, pretend laughing will work (like this.)
  • Get It Out
    Use the bathroom. I have a musician friend who always does a number two before a show.

And then of course there's the (arguably) the most important one: practice. If you can practice something enough times that it feels kind of boring, you're way less likely to have that bodily adrenaline response.

These are some techniques that have helped me in the past. What works for you?

Gonna be at Alt Summit later this month? Me too! Oh, I guess I already said that. You should come watch my talk and do push-ups backstage with me while I freak out! Or just stop me and Alicia in the halls at some point and say hello; we'd love to meet you.


Tagged: , ,

View/Add Comments (1)


(2000 character limit)

faith-towers on Jan 16, 2017:

No matter how you deliver your speech, people will be fascinated with the content :) So excited!!

All comments
Comments RSS