Overcoming your fear of public speaking

Carmen BryceBlog posts

As a shy university student who is frequently required to give presentations, I understand more than most the fear of public speaking.

Fear of public speaking, otherwise known as Glossophobia is an extremely common phenomenon and affects roughly 75% of Irish people at some stage throughout their lives.

While I’m sure I‘m not the only one, I react to a presentation in the same way as I would to a threatening situation; my ‘fight-or-flight’ response kicks in and I’m left with a highly increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, a huge lump in my throat, and a very strong urge to flee!

For my first college presentation, I had exactly what I wanted to say written out on flashcards and the only thing I had to think about was reading what was written on the cards. My friend, who was doing the other half of the same presentation, even agreed to change the presentation slides for me; one less thing to worry about, all I had to do was read the words from cards I was holding.

I’d say I made it half-way through the first flashcard when my hands were shaking so badly that I actually couldn’t see what was written and I had to put the cards on the table to be able to read them. Even at that, my voice was shaking, and I struggled to breath throughout the entire thing.

However, I did survive and now three years later, with many more presentations under my belt, I am not quite so terrified. The internet is full of tips for dealing with fear of public speaking but here are some which worked for me:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice
In my experience, when I have to give a presentation, it is generally not on a topic I have chosen or care very much about, which makes “being passionate” about your topic difficult, but does not mean it is impossible to learn off. For me, knowing exactly what it is that I’m going to say, inside out and upside down, helps with my nerves. There is a certain comfort in knowing that even when you get nervous, and your mind goes blank, your muscle memory will step in, and you will be able to continue with your presentation. Practicing what you are going to be saying out loud really does help, as even when your brain forgets what comes next, your mouth remembers!

2. Experience is key
As horrible a thought as it might be, the more presentations you do, the easier they become. Originally, I was extremely reluctant to believe this but it actually is true. Every time you step up to give a presentation, regardless of who it is to, it is just slightly easier than the last. It isn’t a quick process, but over time and with practice you’ll begin to learn that public speaking really isn’t the most horrible thing in the world, and regardless of how it goes, you will survive it.

3. Everyone is in the same boat 
As much as you might think you are the only one freaking out, trust me you’re not. Some people are better at hiding their nerves than others, but you can be guaranteed that most of the people around you feel the same way you do. As Mark Twain once said “There are only two types of speakers in the world; 1. The Nervous, 2. Liars.”

You should also take comfort in the fact that majority of the time, no one is even listening to what you are saying, they are too focused on their own presentations, so even if you are a bit nervous, or even if you mess up, chances are, you are the only one who will have noticed.

4. Breathe

Controlling your breathing can also be helpful in relaxing yourself before giving a presentation or speaking in public. One very simple and easy breathing technique which promotes low, slow breathing, relaxing the stomach and filling you with air is to breath in for four seconds and breath out for four seconds, continuing to do so until you actually feel relaxed and more confident.

If you feel you need an extra bit of help to overcome your fear of public speaking, talk to one of the mental health professionals in MyMind. MyMind provides affordable counselling in Dublin city centre, Dublin 6, Limerick and Cork.

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Written by MyMind Intern Hayley Banahan