How to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

According to psychologists, most people have a greater fear of public speaking than of death. As someone who trains speakers professionally, I can attest this is true.

How to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/uschools

It certainly was for me. Even after I had been speaking publicly for years, I still struggled with fear. Even when I was well-prepared. This happened nearly every time I spoke.

The problem, as I eventually discovered, was I was focused on myself.

My thoughts were consumed with whether or not they would like my speech, laugh at my jokes, or think I was smart.

As a result, I sweated profusely. My hands got ice cold. I felt sick to my stomach. I would often be near panic before I stepped up on the stage.

Everything shifted when I started focusing on my audience.

I started asking myself, What are their needs? How do they feel? How can I best serve them?

Suddenly, my anxiety disappeared. Not all at once, but incrementally, as my focus shifted from me to them.

Now, I usually can’t wait to speak. Occasionally, I slip back into the old pattern, but at least now I know how to fix it.

The question I always ask myself right before I step to the podium is this:

What are the gifts I want to give those attending this event?

I focus on three. These have the power to transform them—and me.

  1. The Gift of Clarity. When people come to hear someone speak, regardless of the topic—they are often confused. For example:

    • People come hear Tony Robbins because they are confused about how to succeed in life.

    • People come hear Dave Ramsey because they are confused about how to get ahead financially.

    • People come hear me because they are confused about how to get noticed in a noisy world.

    My goal is to enlighten their minds. I must make the complex simple and provide a framework that dials everything into focus. So must you.

  2. The Gift of Courage. When people come hear someone speak, they are often demoralized and ready to quit. Even if the speaker gives them the knowledge they need, fear may keep them from acting on it. (Never underestimate the power of fear!)

    My goal is to engage their hearts. I must convince them they have what it takes to succeed. So must you.

  3. The Gift of Commitment. When people come to hear someone speak, they are often stuck and unable to move forward. Even if they have clarity and courage, they will be tempted to hesitate or procrastinate.

    My goal is to move their wills. I must identify what they need to do next and then call them to specific action. So must you.

It’s amazing how a shift in perspective can change everything. It certainly has for me.

Next time you have the opportunity to speak publicly and find yourself getting nervous, try refocusing on the needs of your audience. Give them the gifts they need to succeed. It will make a difference. For you and for them.

Question: Do you get nervous before you speak? How do you deal with it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Joy

    Thank you for this very timely post…I can’t help but believe you’re a part of strong and desperate prayers being answered. Tomorrow I am to present to a large number of people for the first time in twenty years, and I’ve been overwhelmed with fear and panic. Your post helped fine-tune my goal and shift my focus, and I feel very much less anxious. How perfect! Thank you for being willing to speak truth and to be transparent.

    • Jim Martin

      Joy, I wish you the best tomorrow as you speak to this group. So glad that Michael’s post was helpful. Please let us know how it went.

  • Josh Glaser

    Thank you for this, Michael! So helpful.

    I had a revelation several years ago before a speaking engagement for which I was under-prepared. I would have been nervous anyway, but because I hadn’t prepared well, I was all the more anxious. As I stood to the side waiting for the moment when I would stand up to speak, I sensed God whisper simply, “Love them.” It was like a lightbulb that shifted my view of the audience I was addressing.

    It also revealed that I had a hidden metric I was using to measure success: How much the audience liked me. In contrast, when my focus is on loving well the men and women to whom I’m speaking, the metrics change completely and have little to do with me.

    I still don’t do this perfectly, but I do recognize now when I’m overly anxious that I’m looking too much at me and not enough on them. A question that expresses this is, “Am I seeing those to whom I’m speaking or am I using them as a mirror to try to look at myself?”

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and experience so generously!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That’s a great revelation to have Josh. @disqus_oIQ1Rj9ECi:disqus also mentioned something similar in his comment. Focus on the people and you will do well.

  • Bonnie Clark

    I love how Nancy Duarte describes it in Resonate:

    Nancy says that as the presenter, she isn’t the hero, she is the mentor. She’s Yoda and the audience is Luke Skywalker. The audience is the hero. She’s simply one voice helping them get unstuck in their journey. Her insights will help the audience make a decision to change. If she presents well, they’ll cross the threshold voluntarily and jump in. She also views the audience as a long line of individuals waiting to have a face-to-face conversation with her (rather than a room of 1000!)

    For the call to action, she says the audience can consist of four distinct types of people capable of taking action: doers, suppliers, influencers, and innovators. Think about how you frame your call to action to elicit a response from these groups.

    Finally, I love a quote she included:
    Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it “to whom it may concern” – Ken Haemer

    • Jim Martin

      Bonnie, so glad for your reference to Nancy Duarte. I’ve learned so much from her books. Love that quote by Ken Haemer.

  • allison

    I get nervous, heart pounding, rapid breathing, all of that. I focus on the audience’s needs, but how can I get over the fear of forgetting something that is crucial for the audience to know? That’s what makes me more nervous than anything else and is what makes my heart start pounding out of my chest before I speak.

  • Oliver Karstedt

    Thanks Michael, this is great and powerful advice! Can’t wait to try this out on my next conference.

    Did anyone ever try out the old trick of picturing your audience naked to lose your fear? I’ve knownThanks Michael, this is great and powerful advice! Can’t wait to try this out on my next conference.

    Did anyone ever try out the old trick of picturing your audience naked to lose your fear? I’ve known this for ages but never got to try it out, I’m always too focused on not tripping when I go on stage and when I start speaking it’s already too late to do anything else than order your thoughts and try not to blabber. this for ages but never got to try it out, I’m always too focused on not tripping when I go on stage and when I start speaking it’s already too late to do anything else than order your thoughts and try not to blabber.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I haven’t done that before Oliver. Some swear by it but I just can’t do it.

  • http://morethanadventure.com/ Kurt Swann

    Part of the fear is because the speaker has an almost adversarial view of the audience as if they are just waiting to render a harsh judgement. It’s helpful to remember it’s actually more likely the audience is on your side. They want you to do well when you speak. They are more like friends than critics. I’ve never been in the audience and sat there thinking, “I hope this is a terrible speech!” And they will cut you some slack since they probably have their owns speaking fears. The audience is not full of jaded theater critics just waiting to write a scathing review :)

  • http://www.davebratcher.com/ Dave Bratcher

    One of the best things I did to get comfortable speaking was to join a local Toastmasters club. It is very inexpensive and the value you get from it is great. Practice does make perfect, but you want to make sure you are practicing the proper way. As always Michael, thank you for sharing your insight on a very scary experience for so many of us.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Toastmasters is a great organization. I’ve got a couple of friends in the group and they love it. What’s been your greatest takeaway from Toastmasters?

      • http://www.davebratcher.com/ Dave Bratcher

        The greatest takeaway for me was someone giving me immediate feedback. Often when we speak, we do not get any feedback and if we do, it isn’t constructive. You also have no idea how many filler words you are using until someone starts counting.

  • Cindy Cole Nelson

    Someone once told me to think of whatever discomfort, fear, anxiety you are feeling as an offering up to God. It’s something you are willing to endure in order to live out His purposes for you and ultimately help your audience. – Just another way to get the focus off of yourself like you said because that is so key! Thanks for the reminder!

  • http://www.liveitforward.com/ Kent Julian

    How can I give? How can I serve? How can I help my audience live it forward?

    Empowering others to show up and shine is what speaking is all about and it’s what allows a speaker to succeed long-term.

    Outstanding post, Michael!

  • http://propreacher.com/ Brandon

    Great insights Michael, thanks! As a pastor, preaching every week is a huge challenge. I completely agree that often when I get overwhelmed and my stress and anxiety rises the most is when I am too focused on myself and not the message and my audience.

  • Gary Wright

    Amen! I struggled with this for years. Over the last year the Lord had really given me a burden for people to hear a specific message (of some things The Lord had done in my life) as doors have opened for me to share this message I’ve been relaxed, seen incredible response, and enjoyed it so much more. I realized it was because I was truly focused on the people, trying to impact them – rather than trying to give a great talk. Major eye opener for me!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Gary, thanks for sharing on Michael’s blog. Your answer has given me an idea on how to control my fear of public speaking. If I can focus on the people rather than the great talk, this could help me.

  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    Good stuff, Michael. You’ve nailed the cause for my anxiety. Time to remove the focus from me and put it on those who I’m desiring to serve.

  • Beth Marshall

    Michael, thank you for your insight. I just left a Marketing Boot Camp and we covered this exact topic two hours ago! I will definitely think more about audience focus next time I speak!

  • Susan Sage

    I’m not so afraid of public speaking except that I get so passionate about whatever I’m saying that I turn beet red and people think I’m going to pass out. Maybe it’s nerves working their way out but I don’t necessarily feel nervous until right at the end when I begin to wonder if I said everything God wanted me to say. Prayer works greatly!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Boy do I ever get nervous before I speak Michael. For me, it’s not so much sweating or cold hands that get me. It’s the fact that I can’t control my umms and ahhs and ya knows when I’m nervous speaking.

  • http://www.peterdehaan.com/ Peter DeHaan

    Michael, when you said “Everything shifted when I started focusing on my audience,” that’s want I needed to hear. Brilliant!

  • Lois Ridley

    I agree with you Micheal! I recently had to speak to parents on internet safety. As the date came closer I felt more and more overwhelmed. I was surprised because I usually do not bother to get so nervous. Eventually it was too much for me to handle until I reconnected with my why as you stated. I wanted the parents to know tips but mostly they have hope and Help available =) Then, I asked my friends and family for support and prayer…. I will never forget the concerned look on the faces of the parents during the talk. That was when I reconnected with the WHY of sharing and speaking.
    I will need to rethink when you mentioned the specific call to action. Do you give them a step by step action plan when you are done? Or a where to start plan with a timeline?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It depends on the talk. Is it a persuasive talk (where I am trying to convince them of something) or an enabling talk (where I am attempting to explain how to do something). Even in a persuasive talk, I try to end with an enabling conclusion and call them to take at least one action.
      (By the way, we teach the difference between these two kinds of talks at the SCORRE Conference. We also teach you how to prepare and deliver them.)

  • Simcha Simpy Green Gluck

    Great post Michael! I find public speaking just comes out better when it’s a topic that I’m passionate about. As an entrepreneurial trainer, the more I speak, talk, run workshops, etc on anything within that category…the words seem to glide ride out. Because it’s coming from a place of sharing and excitement, there is a natural flow.

    Another way to rid fear of public speaking it to view yourself as an educator instead of “someone giving a speech”! As an educator, I give over something to you but as a speaker it feels like I look for something from you to me. It’s subtle but has made all the difference in coming from a clear place and being self generated in the giving over of your message. Hope this helps!

  • http://www.alexbarker.org/ Alex Barker

    I love this perspective Michael. I frequently ask myself when speaking, “What is my goal?” My root goal is usually “To promote the best outcome”, whether its speaking to patients, students, or health care professionals.

    The best advice I have to for those who are scared is practice. I was once terrified of public speaking and now it’s an environment where I come alive. I arrived to this point because I practiced and took opportunities to speak.

  • http://herchristianbusiness.com/ Rhonda White

    I had speech class in college and was horrified as such a shy person that I had to take the class. I was shocked that I ended up liking it so well. For me, the key was good preparation and knowing that I took time to come up with some creative things to share. It gave me that extra nudge of confidence. I think I actually find it more challenging in smaller groups where the pressure of frequent conversation exchange is at stake.

    • Jim Martin

      Rhonda, great point about the value of preparation and having confidence in the work you have done to be prepared. You are right. It really does make a difference. Thanks!

  • http://potential2success.com/ ralphjp

    I always say that a speech (depending on where you are speaking) is a conversation. You give and you take, you talk and you “listen”. Focusing on what you are saying to the audience and how they are receiving it instead of how you feel up there really makes a difference.

    • Jim Martin

      ralphjp, good point. Not only does this approach make a difference in how the speaker feels but I have found it to be so much more effective.

  • Stephen Braswell

    Thanks for the advice… I have noticed that I tend to be more performance minded when I am before a crowd… I want to put my best foot forward, but I worry that I am too consumed with what people might think about me… Do you have any comments or advice about this?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Congratulations. You are normal. ;-)

      This is where I think we have to intentionally shift our focus. One way to do this is to ask questions? “How is the audience feeling? What do they expect? How do I want them to feel when they leave today? What take-away’s do I want them to have?”

      • http://www.winningagent.com/ Richard M. Hartian

        I think this is a key
        “What take-away’s do I want them to have?”” This is how I make my outline…I can’t believe how long it took me to figure this out…

    • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

      I used to worry about how people would feel about my delivery. Instead of focusing on being me, I tended to try and guess what they might prefer.

      Instead I have now chosen to embrace my personality & strengths in my delivery. If you’ve answered the questions below, trust your gut, and be you when you deliver.

  • lutramon

    While I feel totally at ease at speaking to a small group or an individual, I have a tremendous fear of speaking to a large group of people. Michael hit the nail on the head in this article. If I examine the root of my fear, I find that it is pride – “what will people think of me?” becomes my all consuming thought. When I choose to focus on the “what” of my speech and not on “how” it might or might not come across it liberates me from my fears. Great word.

  • Carmen Peone

    Fear keeps me from speaking. But I love how you put to focus on the audience and not me. Just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  • Gabe Nies

    it makes it a lot easier when you shift your focus to giving the audience something they don’t know, or need instead of focusing on yourself. great blog thanks!

  • http://soulofatlas.com/ Mark David Henderson

    This is the most helpful post I have read in a long time. What a tremendous gift to reorient my entire perspective! Thank you for sharing this. It will reframe my preparation for a speech this Wednesday and two radio interviews next week. Many, many thanks.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome, Mark. I am glad you found it helpful.

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    There are some venues that I am comfortable in, like, say, a church setting. I started speaking publically when I was a freshman in college (it is amazing how charitable a retirement home of retired missionaries can be to a 19 year old). My first sermons were horrible. But as with anything, the more I spoke, the better I got, or, at least the more comfortable I got.

    About a year ago I was invited to speak at a breakout session at DreamForce (the Salesforce.com annual event). Obviously that was a very different venue than that retirement home, and I was nervous.. I felt much as I did when I was 19…because the venue was different, and the topic, though familiar, was not something as powerful as the Word of God. And the crowd? Well, they stayed awake. But they weren’t nearly as encouraging as those retired missionaries.

  • Ramakrishna Reddy

    Very well written article and I think it touches the soul of fear. Another simple question to ask is – “Why are we there in the room speaking to them?” A deep answer to this question would work wonders. At least for me. I am a big fan of toastmasters contests. Even though I am comfortable at platform – I keep asking this question and come up with the best possible answer. This helps mitigate all other factors – including fear

  • Stephanie Shott

    LOVE this post, Michael! I really love the take aways that come from focusing on our “GOALS” as a speaker rather than just dealing with the fear of public speaking. Mapping out our messages with the goals in mind gives us the confidence to step behind the mic with a plan and a purpose. LOVE IT!

  • Ankit Gindoria

    Hi Michael,
    What do you think of toastmaster for public speaking, to remove fear and for practice? Do you have any better options? Thanks a lot and keep good work…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I think Toastmasters is great. They are highly regarded. If you want to get up to speed faster—like 4 days—my company offers the SCORRE Conference. I think it is the best speaker training available today.

      • Ankit Gindoria

        Thanks a lot for information.

  • Standswithafist

    In junior high I never got the opportunity of public speaking. In school we didn’t have any trainers so the school picked up the best ones and they always went for public speaking competitions. I did apply for it but since I wasn’t one of the best, and wasn’t liable enough to get a trophy for the school I didn’t get selected and flt left out, worthless and under confident. I hated the feeling of sitting in the dark, the back seat, even though I had ideas, ideas I wanted to share. In college I finally got the opportunity to take part in public speaking classes. It’s he’ll scary but I force myself to get out of my comfort zone. Because I want to start over. I want to prove it that I could do something. Sometimes when the topic is on th spot I’m not prepared and just blab a point or two. And I feel really scared and I just want to get over with it. Its as if I force myself to just fulfill my responsibility and I just sit after speaking feeling satisfied that I spoke. I hate it. I spoke once when a topic was given before hand and I went a bit prepared and when I spoke I felt good. Really scared but good. But I cannot face my audience. I get scared that they are better speakers and I’m making a fool out of myself. I get scared that I’m not good enough. I try to work hard and gain confidence but it’s not easy. I get really negative and I try to be better. I try to hide the fear and sometimes I do a good job at it but I hate acting confident. I hate acting trying to be fearless and just a good speaker. Because honestly, that’s not what I want. What I want is to influence the audience. I want them, like you said ‘gift them’. I just need help with it. Sorry for the long post but I will be thankful and will appreciate your help. As a beginner, I need some tips.

  • judy

    My heart races beat louder im extremely nervous scared to death and when I deliver the speech I’m so frozen in fear that even my written down notes come out mumbled and miss read word and it’s true I do focus on myself and what the audience are thinking of me I’ll use your advice if ever I dare again

  • Judy

    I have no problem speaking one on one. As a matter of fact I’m so comfortable with one on one most people are surprised when I fall apart in front of a group. My voice shakes, my stomach tightens and I’m a bundle of nerves. I have not been able to overcome these fears and I am looking for help with this problem. Are speaking classes recommended or some sort of therapy?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      First of all, this is pretty normal. You are not alone.

      I would consider joining a local Toastmasters group or coming to our SCORRE Conference. We’ve helped thousands of people just like you move from fear to confidence.

  • Sara

    I enjoy meeting new people, getting to know them and what they believe. I can laugh and make jokes and be personable. But as soon as I step up to talk to the same people I just met, but in front of them not in a conversation, I become nervous. I get very serious, sweaty, and formal. I talk quickly and look around nervously. I get upset with myself the more I realize that I’m doing a terrible job. I want to be good at it, but maybe it’s just not my thing?

  • Grant

    I just don’t know what to do anymore. I had a bad experience in high school and ever since then Ive been terrified. When I start speaking or reading my heart is racing so fast I can barley even say anything. I go into a state of shock and break down. What should I do? It is affecting me greatly in College.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      First, realize fear is normal when it comes to public speaking. Second, put it into perspective. You won’t die. It only feels that way. ;-) Third, focus on the audience, as I suggested above.

      • Priya

        Thanks so much for the great techniques. I will try them. However, how do I focus on the audience when I’m already consumed with a million thoughts while I’m at the podium? I get so nervous that I lose focus.

  • Michele DeFilippo

    This advice really works. I was a TERRIFIED public speaker before I heard a small part of this advice elsewhere. This post is much more complete and will be even more useful.

  • Craig Lunsford

    Yes, I am fearful before I speak. But I go to Luke 12:12 for holy courage.