Online Public Speaking

Training & Practice


Speech Related Anxiety - Part 7 of 7


To conclude this section on speech related anxiety, we’ll address some specific physiological reactions to anxiety, relative to public speaking. By this we mean how our bodies respond to stimuli. To begin, let’s discuss the fight or flight mechanism again.

When we perceive a threat, real or imagined, we get a jolt of extra energy to help us deal with the threat. It comes in the form of adrenaline. The body is designed use that adrenaline to either defend ourselves, or to run away. Fight or flight.

When we get up in front of a group, our minds sometimes perceive the situation as a threat and give us a boost of energy to use for fighting or running away. If we don’t use this energy in the way it’s intended, it can lead to other physiological reactions like a pounding heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and other delightful sensations.

Mastering the fear of public speaking is really about mastering perceptions – meaning what is and what isn’t a real threat, so our body doesn’t over-produce adrenaline when it’s not needed. It also helps to know how to channel that extra energy when we do get a boost of it.

Learning how to manage perceptions and extra energy is helpful so we don’t have to be limited during our next presentation to punching the guy in the front row who’s staring at us with a weird expression – fight - or running out in the middle of it – flight.

On the other hand, if you don’t know what to expect and the unexpected happens, that can be a problem. We recommend having a general understanding of what physiological reactions exist so you won’t panic if one of them shows up. Then you can have an “I know what to expect and I can deal with anything” attitude instead of a worried, “What is happening to me?” approach.

To help you understand all possibilities, here are the most common physiological reactions, and what you can do with them.

First, dry mouth. To resolve this, keep some bottled water handy. Having bottled water looks natural to the audience, may even make you look like a pro and is acceptable in almost any public speaking environment.

Next, quavering or cracking voice. The best thing to overcome an unsteady or cracking voice is to pause and take a nice, deep breath or two, preferably through your nose using your diaphragm. Then keep breathing as regularly and deeply as possible for the duration of your speech. The quavering usually comes from a lack of proper breathing. The shallower and faster breathing becomes, the more likely these are to occur.

Next, shaking hands. If you’re giving a presentation and your hands start shaking, simply give them something to do. Lay them flat on the podium, grip the sides of the podium, hold them together in front of you if there’s no podium, or hold an object in your hand that won’t distract you or everyone else. Move your hands a little so the shaking is less apparent. By the way, it’s rarely a good idea to hold a thin sheet of paper between your hands if your hands are shaking. The paper will shake too, making it even more obvious.

Next, perspiration. This is mainly your body heating up from adrenaline. There’s not much you can do about it other than conquering anxiety which will result in less adrenaline pumping through your veins. If you really perspire, as in sweat dripping off your face, avoid hot bright lights if possible, stand further away from your audience, wear lighter clothing, and bring a handkerchief to casually wipe your face. It will help to start with shorter presentations and work your way up to longer ones as you get more comfortable and less anxious. We’d say to make the “Is it just me or is it hot in here?” comment, but if it’s not hot in there you’ll sound weird.

Next, dizziness. If you actually feel dizzy during a speech, you should take a break and make sure you’re not actually about to faint. It has happened to people. We’d get ourselves in trouble if we didn’t point out that dizziness may require medical attention.

People tend to hold themselves in a very tense physical position and stature when they’re nervous, so any slight movement can create the sensation of dizziness. Therefore, make the effort to RELAX. Take a few deep breaths. Shake your arms out a little. Let go of the podium that you’re gripping so tightly you’re about to break the sides off. Laugh at yourself a little for being so tense – that alone can relax you.

Also, actual anxiety may increase blood pressure, which may in turn create a feeling of light-headedness. If that’s the case, as long as you don’t feel like you’re actually going to pass out, try the following funny technique. Say to yourself: “I need to relax or I’m going to pass out and THAT will be entertaining to the audience.” The irony and visual of this might work to relax you a bit.

The best way to conquer dizziness in general after seeing your doctor to make sure it’s nothing else is to – you guessed it – take all the necessary steps to turn yourself into a capable, confident speaker. Then you’ll BE relaxed and you won’t feel dizzy.

In general, if you feel any of these responses during a speech, do not panic. Try to stay calm and remind yourself that these responses to anxiety are quite common, and that almost everybody feels them.

Focus on your words and your topic. Repeat: Focus on your words and your topic. Repeat: FOCUS ON YOUR WORDS AND YOUR TOPIC.

If you are truly focusing on your words and your topic, you technically can’t be focused on your fear, or your fear responses! It’s also very hard to make YOU the center of the situation when you’re focused on your words and your topic.

If that’s still not working, focus on your techniques to work through whatever responses are taking place.

Quavering voice? Breathe deeply, then repeat. Hands shaking? Get them busy. If you’re really stressed out and not feeling well, tell the room you need a quick break. Or crack a joke to break the tension. No matter what, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just a presentation. You’ll be fine.

In conclusion, there was a lot of information in this section on anxiety related to public speaking. Types of fears, comfort zones, methods, and much more. We hope you found something that really resonated with you. It may be worth re-reading this section a couple of times to strengthen what you learned or to find more relevant knowledge.

Before we end this module, we just want to wish you good luck, and encourage you to be brave. We all tend to idolize people that seem brave or fearless. There is no such thing as being completely unafraid. Even seemingly strong people feel fear, including the fear of public speaking.

Bravery is rising up to a challenge in the face of uncertainty or fear. Of course, trying something that is really dangerous can be called stupidity. Public speaking is rarely dangerous in the normal world. Which means that when you make the effort to prepare, to practice, and to present, you will be demonstrating bravery.  

We know you can do it.