Tips for overcoming nerves when speaking publicly or presenting.

As a presenter and trainer in public speaking, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is: “Don’t you get nervous when speaking publicly?” Yes, I do and up to a point that is good, but I don’t get anything like as nervous as I could do. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to share in writing a few top tips for overcoming nerves when speaking publicly or presenting.

So, why do we get nervous? Based on this question I discussed this with some colleagues recently, all of whom I know find making presentations or speaking publicly difficult. We came up with the following list. It is not exhaustive but you can always add to them:

  1. There are so many people in the audience
  2. I am going to make a fool of myself
  3. I am going to forget what to say
  4. I might say something wrong
  5. I am just a nervous person anyway
  6. It depends on the audience as to how nervous I get

This last one can be broken down into a couple of sub-groups:

  • I don’t know who the audience is, so may not pitch it right
  • They are my peers, colleagues, friends or family and I might look silly

The following advice may look very easy. However, I understand in practice can be hard.

  1. “There are so many people in the audience”. Actually, there is only one thing that is important and it is not how many people there are, but what you have to say. Some experts suggest imagining your audience sitting naked in front of you! Well, that may be your choice. However, many seasoned presenters find it helpful to view it as having a “conversation” with their audience. So practice what you need to say and imagine you are talking to a few good people.
  2. “I am going to make a fool of myself”. Possibly, however, if you are presenting, you have generally been asked based on your experience. So, go with the idea in your head that people already have an interest in what you have to say in order to deliver a great session. Don’t forget to practice what you have to say and wherever appropriate have fun.
  3. “I am going to forget what to say”. Yes you might. If you are worried about this, have a cue system such as cards with your key talking points on them. Audiences are used to speakers referring to cues, but if you practice then you are less likely to trip up anyway.
  4. “I might say something wrong”. This is always a possibility. We’ve all made mistakes, it’s part of the learning process. Sometimes, you realise it and sometimes you don’t. Invariably, it is how you recover that makes the difference. Often acknowledging a mistake and moving on is enough. Also, if it is your content that you get wrong, remember nobody knows exactly what you were going to say. Therefore, the chances of it being noticed are minimal. However, when creating your content make sure you do your research and have your facts correct and then practice so there is less chance of mistakes.
  5. “I am just a nervous person anyway”. If this is the case then you should consider declining. Not everybody needs to be a speaker. If you decide to go for it, to help overcome nerves when speaking, practice, practice, practice. Wherever possible, use your own material, know your structure and if necessary use cues. I appreciate that this is easy to write and more difficult to do, but if you know your subject and your structure and you practice, then speaking publicly does become easier.
  6. “It depends on the audience as to how nervous I get”
  • “I don’t know who the audience is, so I may not pitch it right”. When speaking to a group, it is important that you do your homework and find out who your audience are, adjusting your delivery to meet their interests and needs. If they are a new audience, it is best to approach with an open and curious mind. At the start of the session meet people as the speaking space begins to fill. Say hello to a few people, preferably in different areas of the room. Most audience members, rightly or wrongly, see speakers as something a little special. By talking to them they are impressed by your warmth and you immediately gain a “friend” and supporter, and so they can become someone you can talk to in the room.
  • “They are my peers, colleagues, friends or family”. Speaking to your any of these can be quite intimidating. The trick is to include them as much as possible in what you say. Ask them questions, both rhetorical and questions you actually want answers to, but most of all, practice what you want to say.

If you want overcome nerves when speaking publicly, prepare well, be conscientious and practice. Remember, if you have no nerves, then chances are you may become complacent and although you may not feel it at the time, you may well have reason to be concerned afterwards!!


James Hasler is a professional event host, moderator and online event producer in Zoom. He is also a professional Toastmaster and Voice Artist and is regularly found leading events both from the front or hidden away behind a microphone as a Voice of God type announcer. If you have any questions or you wish to add to this post please get in touch using the Contact page of this website. 

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