Speech anxiety is no small thing. It doesn’t just affect your presentations. It affects your career, your stress levels, and even your relationships. (Yep. Your fear of public speaking reaches farther than you think.)
Because if you’re hiding, you’ll never get noticed. You’ll never show how good you really are at your job. You’ll never get that promotion you deserve. And then you’ll never get the same opportunities if you’ve passed them too many times.
But how will things change if you decide to be visible?
Your career, your salary, your relationships? The impact you can make – it all starts with addressing your speech anxiety. So today we’ll learn:
- What is speech anxiety
- Why it happens to YOU specifically
- What to do the moment you blank out or freeze on stage
- What to do before your presentation to manage it
- And how you should prepare and rehearse to minimize it
By the way, this speech anxiety guide goes hand-in-hand with my stage fright guide where we go into more detail about converting your nerves into excitement.
Speech Anxiety – what is it?
Imagine seeing a gigantic tiger charging right at you. What would you do?
That’s a threat our prehistoric ancestors faced and they didn’t have the luxury of thinking it through. An automatic rush of adrenaline would just take them into the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
Brain activity is on hold while the body instantly becomes stronger and faster – just long enough to survive.
These days, we likely won’t have a tiger charging at us, but that fight-flight-freeze response is just as intense and it pops up for other “threats” like giving a major presentation.
So what does it look like?
- A pounding heart
- A shaky voice
- Redness and sweating
- Even dizziness or queasiness
- And the worst one – brain freeze or blanking out.
This last one – blanking out – is the scariest of them all. All those other symptoms can at least be hidden, but If your brain is “paralyzed” you can barely even speak to explain yourself. Your body is just screaming at you to get out!
(And in case you’re wondering, yes. I’m speaking from my own experience.)
But wait, there’s even more to fear of public speaking than meets the eye!
As if those sensations aren’t bad enough, speech anxiety has an even further reach on your life. If you’ve faced something like this, you’ve probably structured your career to avoid giving presentations. If you do have to give one, you probably procrastinate instead of preparing, just to avoid this horrible feeling. Then, just to get through it, you speak softly and with monotone and reinforce this notion that presenting sucks.
Some past clients even have a version of speech anxiety before job interviews, or when they speak to their boss, or even if they have to speak up at team meetings.
And if you’re always hiding, you stop being noticed. It doesn’t matter how good you are – you start getting overlooked in your career putting you years behind where you deserve to be.
So yeah, speech anxiety is no small thing. But you’re not alone.
If I were to guess, you’ve probably always been a high achiever in one way or another. You’ve put a lot of pressure on yourself to do a good job, in fact, to be the best.
And when you get up there, in front of all these people, somewhere deep in your brain there’s a question:
“What if I’m not enough?”
It’s probably not as obvious as that, but it’s that question phrased differently. And I want to tell you that yes,
YOU ARE ENOUGH
Eventually you won’t need this guide because the sensations of speech anxiety will just pass through and you’ll absolutely love getting up in front of people to present. But until then, let me guide you through.
What to do in the moment if you blank out or have brain freeze
Just remembering that feeling of blanking out on stage all those years ago sends shivers down my spine.
But you know what? If it ever happens again, I know exactly what to do to snap out of it and get my momentum back.
Here are my “in case of emergency” tips:
1 – Take a looooong pause.
First of all, I want you to know that it may seem like forever to you, but it’s really not. Most people probably won’t even notice. (They might even think you’re doing it for effect.)
Personally I like to take that moment to just pay attention to my breath and body sensations – for me it’s like a reset – but I already practice that a lot so I find it easier than most.
Here’s how YOU can snap out of it.
- Use the moment to change your inner monologue to “I’m excited!” or something else reassuring. (DO NOT let your self-talk go into “What’s wrong with me?” or anything like that!)
- Smile and change your posture – it will make you feel better.
- Take a sip of water (another way to look like nothing’s happening) and pay attention to the calming feeling as it goes down your throat. An instant refresh!
2 – If you feel SUPER awkward, acknowledge it.
I once watched a lecture by Neil Degrasse Tyson (yes, the Neil Degrasse Tyson) and in the middle of it he said “wait just a second, I got ahead of myself here.” and took a good minute to just read his notes in front of everyone.
His approach was that this is a normal thing that happens to normal people. Whatever. Who cares!
If you can just approach it as a normal part of presenting, even be humorous about it, not only will it make you feel better, it will make it easier on everyone else.
Yes, yes. The typical advice is to not bring light to your faults. But if it really feels like an elephant in the room, I find that bringing it up adds a little charm and lightness to the situation. It also makes people root for you a little bit.
I might say something like:
“Oh my gosh, I got so excited I forgot what I was saying.”
(Bonus points for the “excited” self-talk, plus it’s a little charming.) Or even:
“My apologies, I worked so hard on this, I just want to make sure it comes out right. Let me just say this again.”
3 – Read from your slides.
I know. This is a public speaking no-no.
But if all else fails, you have to do whatever it takes to get your momentum back.
Go back one slide and literally start reading everything out loud. Your brain will shift back into gear and you’ll find your groove again in no time.
Taking a moment to catch yourself is better than chugging along on lost footing. Everyone will forget about that awkward moment by the end.
What to do right before your presentation if speech anxiety starts creeping in
You’re about to get up for your presentation, and there’s a feeling in your body. It’s screaming at you “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO RUN AWAY!”
And if I know anything about habits, this is where your negative self-talk takes over and steals the show. It’s here that your feelings of extreme anxiety will start.
All you need to do is give yourself enough of an energy boost to get up there and start. The rest will take care of itself.
I go into great detail about this in my stage fright guide, but here’s the quick recap.
1 – Channel your inner Beyonce
Sometimes you need to borrow someone else’s confidence until you get into your own groove.
And by the way, it doesn’t have to be Beyonce – most people choose to channel their boss.
2 – Power Poses
Your body language actually lends you confidence and calms your inner anxiety.
3 – Say “Im excited”
One way to convert the energy of stage fright into stage presence is to trick your brain by saying “I’m excited!” over and over again.
The physical sensations are almost the same – blushing, tingling, a pounding heart – might as well call it excitement and present from that headspace.
What to do the day of your presentation
Speaking of headspace, If you have a presentation or an important meeting, the earlier you can get in the zone, the better!
See also: High-energy checklist for your next presentation
- Start your day with some exercise to get you energized.
- Wear something that makes you feel super confident and professional.
- Listen to songs that pump you up (I like “This Girl is on Fire” by Alicia Keys)
- Try to stay away from people or things that drain you or bring you down.
- Make sure all the tech is set up and you won’t have to troubleshoot on the spot. (Sounds obvious, but give it your final stamp of approval.)
Also, eat like you would normally, try to get really good sleep, and avoid alcohol the day before (and day of.)
How to prepare and rehearse to manage speech anxiety
You won’t have time to feel anxious while you’re getting prepared.
Make a killer presentation
If you know you have killer content, it makes it that much easier to get excited to deliver it.
As soon as you know you’ll be presenting, start creating your talk.
Use these guides and go from there:
How to start your speech to get your audience ENERGIZED
How to end a speech to inspire ACTION
Speech transitions to NOT LOSE your audience
I know I’ll get flak for this, but I’m saying it anyway.
It may help you to write your speech out word for word. Not to “read from a script” but rather to slow down while creating it.
I also recommend recording yourself – it puts on the same pressure as being in front of people PLUS you can give yourself feedback!
This is a huge component of my coaching. Visualize yourself in the space you’ll be presenting. From the moment you get up to the moment you sit back down.
I also recommend visualizing things going wrong – including a brain freeze – so that you can practice snapping out of it with the tips above.
I truly hope this helps.
I want you to know that you only have to overcome this once for it to really stick. And then, just like Alicia Keys promises, you’ll always be on FIRE!
Leave me a comment if any of this rings true for you.