Public Speaking Anxiety: Choose fear or fun

Public speaking anxiety can be dissolved. You can CHOOSE the way adrenaline affects you when public speaking.


Could public speaking anxiety be fun?

Psychologist Stanley Schacter has conducted experiments on the way people label the physical symptoms of anxiety. Using many inputs, including a drug similar to adrenaline, he set up two different scenarios.

Half the group were told to expect good feelings and given feedback that they were having the time of their lives. The other half were told to expect bad feelings and given feedback that the experience was negative. The inputs were the same, only the way the participants labelled the experience was different.

Excitement has very similar physical symptoms to nervous anxiety. Those who expected good feeling enjoyed the rush of adrenaline and felt energy, those who saw the feelings as negative labelled it anxiety.

You can alter your experience of a situation by changing the way you think. Once you know why the feelings and symptoms are there, you can choose to experience either energy or anxiety.


Hyper-vigilance is bad nerves

What do we focus our attention on? Hyper-vigilance means our attention is focused too intently on ourselves, not the true situation. This can magnify what would otherwise be minor things. For example, we mislabel a small change in our bodily reactions such as dry mouth or sweaty palms, as being dramatic.

Hyper-vigilance creates overreactions and drains the energy needed to comfortably complete your presentation. The good news is we can choose to focus our attention on the highest priorities.


Find your message and lose the ‘bucket’ of words

There are many techniques to reduce the nervous symptoms, but there is one that stands out. Gaining certainty of message, and the feeling of purpose it engenders, is by far the strongest foundation you can create for yourself. Think logically about how you could feel prepared and then work on those elements.

The goal of planning for a speech or presentation is to identify the intent of words, not to write down all the words you want to say. This gives you certainty about the idea, message or concept you want your listeners to accept. Without a planning template of some kind, your presentation can appear to be just a huge bunch of words.

When you find the message to be transferred to your listeners, your entire experience changes. A feeling of purpose develops. You can relax knowing you don’t need to memorise all the words as there are many combinations that will communicate the meaning of your message.

In addition, delivery elements such as the tone, inflection and emphasis of your voice start to flow naturally from your clarity of mind. Sorting the information in your head reduces nervousness and helps create a natural delivery style.


Good nerves and the performance myth

Our goal is not to eliminate nervousness – just to eliminate the fear and hyper-vigilance that magnifies it. The cure is to simply take away all of the clutter about ‘performing’ and focus on communicating information. The emphasis should be on getting the ideas across, not on the performance per se. Once the focus is on the information you want to share, you can find your natural style.

Your style is the right style! Change your perception of what’s going on, put anxiety to good use and discover the relaxed certainty that will make you a great speaker.



Adrenaline doesn’t have to create fear …it can be seen as energy. Gain certainty about your message and you’ll reduce public speaking anxiety and allow your “natural” presentation style to flow.


If you’d like to learn to control nerves when speaking in public, consider:

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