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6 Coping Strategies For Public Speaking

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

Public Speaking is one of the most common phobias and sources of anxiety. Here are coping strategies which may help you to manage your anxiety while speaking publicly.  

  1. Be realistic about your audience’s expectations.

What are the expectations of your audience? Do they expect you to give a perfect speech? Are they critiquing your every word? 

Most likely, such high expectations are your expectations, not those of your audience. Perfection is unrealistic, and assuming that your audience expects perfection can cause you needless anxiety. 

Try this: identify your own expectations of public speakers. Are you critiquing their every word, or are you focusing on the information that you need to absorb? Are you paying attention the entire time, or do you drift off now and then? When the speaker messes up, do you remain focused on that part of their speech, or do you refocus quickly? Exploring your own expectations of public speakers may help you identify the more realistic expectations that your audience is likely to have of you. 

  1. Learn your material, your own way. 

It’s important that you feel confident in your knowledge of the material that you are presenting or in the speech that you are giving. Spend a good deal of time learning your material so that you truly, confidently know it. When learning, it’s important to embrace your personal style(s) of learning. 

Here are a few ideas: if you’re a visual learner, video record your speech and watch it, and use visuals in your speech as a way to communicate your material to your audience. If you’re an auditory learner, audio record your speech and listen to it, and also listen to others who have given similar speeches. If you’re a kinesthetic learner, practice your speech multiple times and integrate body movements into your speech, such as hand gestures and postures. 

  1. Practice systematically.

Gradually exposing yourself to the act of public speaking can diminish your anxiety. 

For example, if you have to give a speech at work, you might practice it in these steps: 

Step 1: Practice your speech in your head without saying a word out loud. 

Step 2: Practice your speech out loud when you’re alone in a non-professional setting. 

Step 3: Give your speech to one person who is a member of your support system, someone you trust and with whom you feel safe.  

Step 4: Give your speech to a work colleague. 

Step 5: Give your speech to two or more people. 

Step 6: Give your speech in front of your audience. 

Throughout this systematic process of practicing your speech, you will likely feel anxious, but your anxiety will likely feel more manageable than it would if you simply jumped into it. Also, consider asking for constructive feedback from your colleagues and from members of your support system.  

  1. Relax your body. 

It’s difficult for your mind to experience anxiety when your body is calm. Therefore, if you can calm your body, your mind will likely follow. Use body calming interventions before, during, and after practicing your speech. 

There are many body-focused calming interventions that you can use. Here are a few:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Physical grounding. 
  • Meditation body scans. 
  1. Embrace silence. 

How many famous speeches include moments of silence? Most (if not all) do. Moments of silence are necessary components of any effective speech.  

When a speaker is rushing or rushed, it can be difficult for the audience to keep up and absorb the information being presented. Time and space are needed for an audience to collect, understand, and reflect upon the material that is shared. Your audience will appreciate your ability to embrace silence. 

Moments of silence are also opportunities to take a breath, refocus, and pace yourself. When you practice your speech, intentionally stop speaking for 2-5 seconds throughout your speech in order to emphasize your main ideas and to ease transitions. If you need something to do, try taking a drink of water, take a couple of breaths, or look ahead at the material that’s coming up. 

  1. Visualize success 

Are you assuming that something will go wrong during your speech? Such an unfounded assumption can cause you anxiety. Instead, try to imagine that your speech is a success. Visualizing this can help your brain embrace success as a possibility, which can diminish your anxiety.If you experience anxiety, consider participating in individual counseling at Symmetry Counseling.

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