Controlling Nervousness

For native and nonnative English speakers alike, many aspects of public speaking can be stressful. People worry about doing or saying something embarrassing, having technical difficulties, appearing unprepared, getting flustered by difficult audience members, forgetting what they planned to say, not being understood due to a foreign accent ... there are endless reasons why people fear public speaking. On the list of the top 10 fears, public speaking ranks higher than death: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld joked that most people would prefer to be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy!

We all respond to being nervous in a variety of ways. Some typical symptoms of nervousness include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling voices, hands or “knocking knees”
  • “Butterflies” or nervous stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Dry mouth

What can you do to control the normal nervous reaction before speaking in front of others?  Here are our favorite tips:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!

  • Rehearse all aspects of your speech, but do not memorize your material. Memorization makes you sound unnatural, and may case distress if you forget a line and then "freeze"
  • Your introduction and conclusion are most important for making a first and last impression; practice them so you know them "cold"
  • Practice standing in front of a full length mirror
  • Audio or video record yourself and critique
  • Have brief notes available or use your PowerPoints to remind you of the content (do not read them exactly from the slide!)

2. Warm-up

  • Release some nervous energy by doing neck stretches and shoulder shrugs, swinging your arms, walking briskly, etc.
  • Take deep, calming abdominal breaths and exhale with candle breaths (imagine gently blowing to make a candle flicker) to smooth out your exhalations and get rid of the "jitters"

3. Take your time

  • Arrive early so you can set up
  • Get settled at the lectern
  • Breathe, look at the audience, smile, then begin

4. Relax your body

  • Remember your candle breaths; they will slow down your heart rate
  • Avoid clenching your hands on the lectern (people can see your white knuckles!)
  • Curl your toes downward and imagine that they are roots of a tree (this will take tension away from the rest of your body)
  • Bend your knees slightly
  • Have room temperature water available

5. Visualize a successful talk

  • Use positive self-talk: you are speaking because you are knowledgable on that topic! People want to listen to you
  • Tell yourself "I'm not nervous ... I'm excited!" Your tension will enhance your performance

If you are prepared, confident, and relaxed, you will do your very best!

If you have concerns about how you look, sound, or generally "come across" to your audience, please don't hesitate to contact us at