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University of Tennessee
Managing Your Fear of Public Speaking


Building on What You Know: Additional Resources

Why Public Speaking

People with public speaking anxiety tend to be high achievers, very intelligent and capable. On an intellectual level they understand the value of effective communication skills, yet let the fear of public speaking limit the development of those skills.

According to many public speaking textbooks, public speaking:

  • inspires creativity
  • is necessary in many careers and professional positions
  • teaches critical thinking skills
  • is an integral component in effective leadership
  • fosters self confidence

Mastering your public speaking anxiety, making it work for you rather than against you, is going to give you an advantage in every facet of your life – professional, personal, and social.

Rest, Relaxation and Sleep

In order to effectively manage stress, you must be well rested and in a relaxed state. Your relaxation can be physical, emotional or mental. Physical relaxation can include a long walk, yoga or meditation, deep breathing, a long bath, nap or massage. Emotional relaxation can include writing in a journal, painting or other artistic expression, listening, playing or composing music, and talking to others. These activities are meant to make you happy and to boost your self confidence. Mental relaxation is intended to clear your mind of negative and stressful thoughts. In this case, you need to quit worrying about your speech. Read a good book, watch a favorite movie, talk to a friend, do anything that is enjoyable and distracting. This does not include procrastination but it does involve distraction.

On average, we need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Sleep deprivation makes us more susceptible to stress and less able to effectively deal with it. Also, when we are stressed it is often hard to shut off our worries and get a good night's sleep. It is easy to get caught up in a stressful and unhealthy cycle. Some tips to getting that good night's sleep include:

  • Make a set bedtime – like 11:00 or midnight – and stick with it (within a half hour)
  • Create a relaxing routine – like washing up, checking email and then watching a favorite show
  • Design an environment conducive to sleep – cooler temperatures, reduced lighting, soft sounds
  • Eliminate caffeine and alcohol in the evening and try not to eat much before bedtime

Positive vs. Negative Thinking

What we think can really affect what we do. Often the biggest hurdle to delivering a great speech is our negative thoughts before the speech. How can you replace negative expectations with positive ones? One suggestion is to brainstorm your thoughts as you prepare for your speech. As you are practicing and refining your presentation, take a minute to brainstorm your concerns and fears. List your negative thoughts, such as fear of failure, fear of making mistake, not making sense, etc. and then respond with what you have done or can do to correct that concern. You should see your list of worries disappear as you make a plan to address each one. That should increase your confidence level and ease your stress.

Based upon your Individual Speech Anxiety Report you may also want to create a journal in which you address each concern and what you are doing about it. This would be more detailed than the list activity described above and more of an ongoing dialogue with yourself. This can be insightful as it can help you pinpoint triggers and ways to manage them better. Within this diary you may want to include sections like: preparation, content, delivery, audience reaction and grade/evaluation. Within each you can record what your concerns are, what you have done to address them, and how you feel you did with each after your presentation. This can prove an invaluable learning tool if used consistently, with honesty and details.