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How to Deal with Speaker’s Anxiety

Posted by Melissa Grey Satterfield on 5/26/14 4:00 AM
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It’s early 2014 and my husband is in our living room, pacing to and fro, anxious about his presentation skills and about giving a presentation for “the powers that be” at his office. As many organizations do in the first few months of a new year, they ask department heads to share their goals and plans for the upcoming year. When I asked him what was making him so nervous, he said, “Unlike you, I don’t speak in front of people on a regular basis – it’s nerve wracking!”

I assured him that even experienced speakers (and trainers, like us) get nervous. The trick is to harness the nervous energy; make it work for you! Incorporate that energy into your presentation – it’ll make you appear passionate about your topic. In honor of my anxiety-ridden husband, and anyone else who fears speaking in public, I’ve put together a few tips to help with your presentation skills and to combat speaker’s anxiety.

1. Get the Blood Flowing

If you are a fan of exercise, then go for a run or walk the day of your presentation. Studies have proven that the benefits of exercise have a positive effect on the nerves, lasting up to 12 hours. If you know you enjoy the endorphin rush that comes with exercise, make sure you perform your activity within 12 hours before your presentation.

2. Rehearse, Don’t Memorize

Practice will build your confidence and reduce your anxiety. However, please note that there’s a significant difference between being well-rehearsed and coming across as memorized. Rehearsed implies you are prepared, confident, and can speak on the fly if needed. Memorized implies you are dependent, lack confidence, and are controlled by your talk, rather than you controlling it.

Plus, memorizing your presentation word for word can actually lead to more anxiety. If something out of the ordinary happens, or you lose your place, you’ll put an extreme amount of pressure on yourself to get back to where you were. A better approach is to commit concepts (not words) to memory. Never, never, never write out your presentation word for word unless absolute accuracy must be maintained (e.g. legal situations). Simply make brief notes. A little spontaneity adds a tremendous amount of character to your presentation.

3. Drop your hands

Your hands and your gestures can add great impact to your delivery. When you are not using your hands, just drop them to your side (the “neutral” position). It will feel awkward at first, but dropping your hands to your side is the most natural gesture you can use. For instance, when you walk down the hallway at your office, do you cup your hands in front as you walk? Probably not. In most situations, it is natural to just let your hands drop to your side. When you do this, it will allow you to make more purposeful gestures when you need to.


Realize anxiety exists. Know what your fears are, and make a list of those fears. Then, look at what’s realistic and what’s not. Do you really believe your audience would begin pointing, laughing, and mocking you? Probably not. So, plan how to respond to realistic fears. Even better, consider attending our one-day workshop, Polish Your Presentation Skills, to get hands-on practice speaking in front of an audience.

Melissa has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. She graduated from the University of Nevada where she studied broadcast communications. During her college years, Melissa worked as an on-air personality for several radio and TV stations in Las Vegas. She’s always been a bit of a performer, which is probably why training is such a good fit for her. Before coming to Langevin, she was a senior training specialist and course developer for an organization based in L.A. Melissa knows the challenges trainers face, as well as the rewards that come with improving job performance. Her training mantra is summed up best by something she learned during her very first Langevin workshop, “Never do for the learners what the learners can do for themselves.” When not in the classroom, Melissa loves travelling, relaxing at the beach, cooking, and hosting dinner parties.

Tags: presentation skills, instructor-led training

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