Asking for a Friend: Help! I get so anxious about public speaking; what should I do?

  • Each week, we respond to a question from our readers and give advice and resources they can turn to
  • This week, we help a student who is nervous about presenting to their class
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It’s common to be nervous about public speaking, but there are ways to deal with the anxiety. Photo: Shutterstock

Need an answer to a personal question that you’ve never mustered the courage to ask? We’ve been there. Whether it is about school, family issues or social life, share your thoughts with us. If you have a question you’d like answered (about anything at all), please fill out this Google Form. Don’t worry – you will remain anonymous!

Dear Friend,

Whenever I’m called on by a teacher or I need to present my homework in front of the class, my face turns red. Once I start talking, I stutter and feel like fainting. How do I overcome this kind of “stage fright”?

Signed, Frightened

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Dear Someone,

We hope this comes as good news to you: public speaking is one of the most common causes of anxiety. Being called on out of the blue can be a bit shocking, but fortunately, those feelings shouldn’t last long.

It’s normal to be nervous about presenting to a crowd, especially if you don’t like to be in the spotlight. However, try not to focus on your discomfort because it makes speaking even more difficult.

Here are a few more tips to help you out:

Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias. Photo: Shutterstock

Prepare yourself by thinking positively

Think about why you’re feeling so anxious. Are you afraid of getting a bad grade or embarrassing yourself in front of your friends? Once you figure that out, think about the more positive things that could happen. Rather than thinking, “I’m going to look so dumb,” focus on the idea that you’ll ace your presentation and impress your class. If you keep thinking about what could go wrong, you’re more likely to self-sabotage.

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Rehearse at home

It might sound silly, but it could help to practice speaking in front of a mirror, a pet or with some friends.

Push past any discomfort and use it as an opportunity to build your speaking skills in a non-judgmental zone. Take a few deep breaths before you start talking to ease your nerves.

You could also chat with someone whose speaking skills you admire or pay a visit to your school’s debate club to get some tips. We don’t know how nervous you are about speaking – is it just in front of an audience, or with anyone you don’t know? You can do little things to practise speaking up: talk to a classmate you don’t know very well, raise your hand at least once a day, or order food on the phone instead of using an app.

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Set reasonable expectations

No one is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. Therefore, don’t criticise yourself or obsess over every imperfection. Instead, acknowledge your efforts and find things about your speech to compliment.

A key part of this is accepting that you will make mistakes, like mispronouncing or forgetting a word. Remember that this isn’t a big deal and doesn’t mean you’ve failed! You can correct the mistake if you notice it right away, but otherwise, move on with your speech. Most people don’t notice minor errors, and if someone teases you for it, that says more about their self-esteem than yours.

Hope that helps, Friend of a Friend

The question was answered by clinical psychologists from the Department of Health under Shall We Talk, a mental health initiative launched with the Advisory Committee on Mental Health.

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