young woman at podium in front of audience

—Maryum N., Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina

There was a time when I first started speaking in front of others when my leg would shake so much that my dress would jiggle as I spoke. I often tried to hide behind a lectern so that no one would see my body betraying my calm voice. I was not just mildly nervous; I was literally shaking in my shoes. While I still get a little nervous before I speak, I’ve gotten much more comfortable after lots of practice.

How can you transform from anxious orator to confident communicator? It takes some work, but here are a few steps to get you on track:

Start small

If you’re nervous about speaking in front of others, one tip is to start small by learning how to speak on very focused topics that take no more than a minute or two to communicate. Learning to introduce yourself is a great way to practice on a small scale.

Take it slow

Learn to breathe and speak slowly. Nervous speakers often breathe quickly and hurry through their material, leaving the audience to wonder what just happened. Breathing deeply and slowly before speaking can reduce your anxiety and help you focus. Moreover, speaking slowly and being sure to enunciate your words allows you to be understood and helps control your breath.

Practice, practice, practice

There’s no substitute for practicing. Knowing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it will calm some of your nerves. Practice in front of a mirror, your pet, or, even better, a friend. You may also want to practice in front of a video camera and watch it later. You may be surprised by how calm, cool, and collected you appear when you’re actually nervous inside.

Remember, your audience is rooting for you

There’s an old saying: To calm your nerves before you speak, envision everyone in the audience in their underwear. While I don’t recommend that kind of visualization exercise, I do recommend imagining that everyone is smiling at you and sending you good vibes for a great speech. Even if they’re not standing up and cheering as you make your way to the front of the room, audiences, by nature, want the person in front of them to succeed. Knowing this can make the ordeal much more manageable.

Enlist supporters

Call them your fans or your coaches, but find someone (or a few people) who will help you practice and provide you with encouragement. These people don’t have to be experts in public speaking. Ask them to listen and if you’re feeling brave, ask them for some constructive feedback.

Know that others get nervous too

Sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. We all get nervous, even those of us who make a living speaking in front of others. What makes us less nervous is that we have followed all the above steps repeatedly!

Seek help

If none of these suggestions work, seek help with a professional counselor. There may be other options for reducing anxiety that you can employ to get you through your next speech.

You may find out that you actually enjoy speaking in front of others once you reduce your anxiety. If so, you’ll have a great story to share with others about how you conquered the fear of public speaking.