A man is standing in front of an audience giving a speech
Practical steps to conquer public speaking anxiety & elevate your presentations at industry events

Feeling those pre-speech jitters before addressing your team, pitching to potential clients or presenting at an industry event?

As a public speaking coach, one common question I receive is, “How can I calm my nerves in the moment?” It’s a genuine concern that many, regardless of their position, face before speaking. Public speaking anxiety is a widespread challenge, even for those well-versed in their industries. Research shows that up to 75% of people experience some degree of fear or anxiety when speaking in front of a group.

Addressing your fear of public speaking through prevention is key. The first step is to recognize and understand your fear, so you’ll be less likely to have those pesky, annoying, anxious, on-the-spot moments.

Understanding the Fear


We inherited our fight-or-flight response for escaping threats, which was necessary during our “cavemen” days. Our bodies rapidly gear up by releasing stress hormones, increasing heart rate and heightening alertness to deal with perceived danger, particularly from predators. While encountering an angry bear or lion is less common nowadays, our built-in protection system remains valuable for genuine threats. However, the challenge arises when the fight-or-flight response activates in situations that may not be in our best interest, like speaking publicly.

We learn to fear public speaking. Perhaps you learned at a young age not to talk to strangers because you were cautioned that they might hurt you, or you felt embarrassed when students snickered as you gave a speech in class. Over time and with repeated experiences, we ingrain these negative thoughts and related emotions, which become automatic triggers.

When we speak or even think about speaking in front of a group, our bodies react; we often enter into a protective mode through avoidance, procrastination or, at showtime, try to distance and protect ourselves from the audience by speaking quietly, looking down and adopting defensive postures. Does this sound familiar?

Try assessing your fear. If you have an upcoming speech, list your fears and what you believe will be the consequences of those fears, and then assess whether they are realistic. Common concerns are forgetting what to say, appearing visibly nervous, speaking too quickly or quietly, and boring the audience.

Ask yourself — if any of these happen, what will result? What is the worst thing that can happen and how likely is that to happen? Most likely, you’ll realize that even if you trip, sweat profusely or forget something, you may not like it, but the world won’t end, you won’t get fired, you won’t lose friends and so on. In other words, the stuff of nightmares that you believe will happen likely won’t happen. It’s just your thoughts gone awry.

Strategies for Speaking With Impact & Confidence

Define Your Purpose & Topic

Clearly define the purpose and intended outcome of your message, ensuring it aligns with the needs and goals of your audience. What are you seeking? Why is it important? What action do you want your audience to take? A well-defined purpose will steer your content. Having a clear objective makes planning and organizing your message simpler.

Know Your Audience & Adapt Your Message to Them

Understand the interests, knowledge level and expectations of your audience. Consider your audience’s specific needs, challenges and preferred communication style. Tailor your content clearly to resonate with their concerns and priorities. You’ll have their undivided attention if they understand your message will benefit them!

Outline Your Speech

Create a structured speech addressing the key aspects of your topic. A well-organized speech enhances clarity and impact. Choose an organizational method that you feel comfortable with and that can easily be applied, such as the “Three T’s” (Tell them what you’re going to tell them — opening. Tell them — body. Tell them what you told them — closing) or the “CAR” method (Challenge, Action, Result).

Embrace Authenticity

Authenticity builds trust. Don’t shy away from showing enthusiasm, acknowledging nervousness and injecting your personality into your presentations. Authenticity resonates on a human level.

Handle Mistakes & Accidents Gracefully

Recognize that mistakes happen to everyone. If an error occurs, take a deep breath, smile and continue. If you accidentally drool, no problem — simply wipe your mouth and proceed. If you accidentally stumble on stage (and don’t get hurt), don’t focus on it. Audiences appreciate speakers who can navigate challenges with grace and most likely won’t notice or care about the mishap.

Focus on the Message, Not Perfection

Effective communication is about conveying essential information, not flawless delivery. Concentrate on delivering a clear message and connecting with your audience.

On-the-Spot Methods to Calm Nerves

You’re well prepared, but the nerves still kick in … what to do? Try these on-the-spot methods to calm your nerves.

Breath Work & Smiling

Practice box breathing, a simple and calming technique, to calm your nerves. Here’s how it works:

  1. Inhale: Breathe quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  2. Hold: Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale: Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of four.
  4. Pause: Hold your breath again for a count of four.


Smiling triggers feel-good endorphins and engages your audience, creating a positive atmosphere. Try smiling when exhaling for double stress-busting effects.

Engage Your Muscles

Tighten and relax muscle groups — such as your fingers and toes — to release tension. By implementing simple routines that engage your muscles, you can promote a more relaxed and confident presentation.

Appear (& Feel) Confident

Adopt a “power stance” to feel strong and boost confidence, exuding strength and professionalism. Stand or sit with feet shoulder-width apart for stability, maintaining a straight spine and head held high to project confidence with open arms. You’ll captivate the audience’s attention and enhance credibility in public speaking engagements.

Get Energy

Just before speaking, engage in light movement while taking deep breaths. For example, raise your arms high as you inhale, and exhale as you lower your arms. Repeat this a few times to activate the release of recharging endorphins.

Remember Your Purpose

Remember the significance of why your audience needs to receive and will benefit from your message!

And, of course, don’t forget to practice. Building resilience and confidence as a public speaker is an ongoing journey. Repeated practice is essential for overcoming public speaking anxiety. You may not feel ready to sprint out of the gate with a big speech, but you can start small by rehearsing in front of a mirror, recording yourself or seeking feedback from trusted colleagues to refine your delivery. You’ll become more comfortable, polished and confident as a speaker with practice.

Overcoming public speaking anxiety is an ongoing journey, but with practice and intention, you can become a trusted and influential speaker. Experiment with strategies to find out what works best for you and make them your secret sauce for success.

Lisa Kleiman is a business and executive public speaking coach and founder of Speaktopia. With extensive coaching and teaching experience globally, including Fortune 500 companies and Boise State University, she authored multiple books, including “You Got This: Everything You Need to Master Authentic Public Speaking” (2019), River Grove Books. Reach Kleiman at hello@speaktopia.com, or visit speaktopia.com for additional resources.


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