How I overcame my fear of public speaking – a step-by-step guide

How I managed to overcome fear of public speaking with ease

Did you know that 75% of people have a fear of public speaking or even the act of raising their voice in a public place? And whilst there exists a small minority of people who can stand up and speak with ease, even some who seem to be accomplished speakers have underlying fears. But how do they cope with them? How do they perform with ease and poise when the pressure is on?

That’s what we’re going to talk about. Once, I was just like you – I had a crippling fear of standing in front of a group of people and speaking.

My throat would tense, the words trapped.

My heart raced, becoming a drum roll in my chest and reverberating through my body.

Voices rose up inside my head, laughing and screaming: “You’re going to fall flat on your face.” Everyone here will think you’re a joke.” “Give up now, go home.”

And at this point, I have to be honest and say those voices are still there, but I’ve learned many ways to deal with them and turn down the volume until they are nothing more than distant voices hardly audible over the other sounds that ricochet around my head.

The reality is – you’ll never truly rid yourself of those voices, but you can push them into the background and silence the fears that well up every time you stand up to speak. I know, I’ve achieved this and in this post, I’ll show you a few simple tips that will help you manage your fears and make your public speeches a success.

Why do I fear public speaking?

Because public speaking is an unnatural act. we’re used to speaking in public – with friends, family and colleagues – but when we do there is no judgement on our performance. But when start to think of giving speeches – private or public speaking engagements – our minds to into overdrive. Instead of a conversation with people we know, in public or private, we feel the weight of peopling judging us.

Let me explain.

We have an innate and very ancient fear of being watched wired into our brains which is understandable when you pause to think about the process of evolution. Way back in time, when we lived in caves, hunted on the plains and were in turn hunted by large vicious carnivores, having a sense of being watched might well have saved up from becoming lunch for a big cat. When we see an audience there is a physiological response registering the people in front of us as predators. The last thing we want to happen is to become the meal of the day and our brains produce a threat response – our hearts race, hands sweat and breathing rate increases; all part of the ‘fight or flight’ response.

But why don’t all people have these responses to public speaking? Well, we’re all made in different ways. Some people run to the fight, others have inherited genes that allow them to remain calm no matter what danger lurks. And some people simply don’t register a threat. Lucky them – speaking comes easy to them.

Now you know why you produce a fear response when even thinking about speaking in public, how do you overcome the anxiety that wells up inside you? And can you learn to speak like the presenters at TED talks when your brain is telling you your audience wants to eat you?

I have tools and tips. They’ve helped me overcome my public speaking fears and give speech after speech to companies as large as Microsoft, small businesses and even schools. And with a little practice, you can too.

How to wipe out fearfulness and make your talk a success

To wipe out your fear of public speaking you’re going to need to practice your skills, deal with the negative voice in your head, overcome your nerves and, most importantly, be flexible.

Know your talk inside out

I remember my first public speech well: I was a young soldier – only 20 years old – and had been selected for a promotion course. Part of the course involved each student giving a presentation of their own choice and we had a week to prepare. The course instructors emphasised practice. But I felt no need to practice, after all, I could:

  • run 10 miles in under an hour;
  • deliver a knockout punch on demand (I was a pretty good light heavyweight boxer and martial artist);
  • set up my comms gear and send a message in under 2 minutes.

In my head, there was nothing I couldn’t do.

As I soon found out, fear of public speaking is something I’d never considered.

On the day, I stumbled through the speech I’d made up the night before. And it was a disaster. Instead of overcoming what I thought was a minor hurdle, I crashed face-first into the floor of the gym where we were speaking.


The first lesson I learned about speeches of any kind was to know your topic and know it well. This is the first step in removing the anxiety and fear that comes with speaking in front of an audience. Find a source of information – whether it be your own experiences (which will make your public speaking endeavours less difficult), or read extensively – and understand it inside out.

If you’re wondering… my first speech ever was graded: ‘no comment’!

Put your audience first

Another vital element to being able to speak well – without anxiety or fear – is to put your audience first. During that very first speech, all I could think of was, “How clever am I? I’ve created a talk that is funny, will wow the audience, and get me a good grade and all it took was 20 minutes of work.” To say I wasn’t giving my audience any respect is an understatement and my speech was awful.

The people who listen to your speeches have likely taken time out of a busy schedule to hear what you have to say, so pay them the same respect. Go all in when you get up on stage. Make them the centre of attention and remember the act of public speaking is not designed to make you feel good about yourself, it’s about the people in front of you and what they want to hear (read my guide to the four types of public speaking to get a better understanding of each and how you build a speech people want to hear).

When your focus is on the audience and providing value to them, much of your fear will ease off. But if it doesn’t, don’t worry. I’ve more public speaking tips for you below.


The very best speakers always put their audience first by respecting them and their time. Do this by giving all you have to your speech, making it interesting and useful.

Plan all the details but be flexible

The Armed Forces have an acronym: the 7 Ps. Prior Planning and Preparation Prevent P*** Poor Performance. I think you can work out what the 5th P stands for. One of the great abilities the Army has conferred on troops is to be flexible and this flexibility is put into practice on a daily basis. Troops practice drills, weapons handling, camouflage, etc until they are second nature, almost instinctive.

But being flexible if vital on the battlefield. Likewise, when speakers step onto the stage they need to be able to shift with the audience. What do I mean by this?

No matter how much practice you put into your public speaking there will be times when you forget some of what you want to say. Having flexibility, whilst fully understanding the theme of your talk, will allow you to fill in the gaps that might come from you forgetting the words you’ve rehearsed. And you’ll definitely want to be able to take the audience’s responses into consideration – if you see notice a large number of the listeners nodding at your words you can pivot to take them a little further down that path, then move back into the rehearsed talk.


Allow yourself to go with the flow when you see a positive response from your audience. And give yourself the freedom to ad-lib if you forget some of the words you’ve rehearsed. Learning this one simple skill will provide a huge and fast confidence boost as they allow you to feel comfortable responding to your listeners without feeling pressured.

How to calm your nerves before a speech

There are many tools that teach you how to calm your nerves before a speech. I’ve used most of them, and they all have varying degrees of usefulness. Rather than list them all, I’ve compiled a list of 3 of the most useful processes for conquering the fear and anxiety that can rise inside you before you make a speech:

  • Affirmations. I’m not talking about the woo-woo pseudoscience you’ve probably heard about on the web. Sure, the ‘if I imagine becoming financially rich’ mantra might make some people feel good, but the reality is you get rich through hard and smart work. And this is where the power of affirmation does have utility (link to self-prophecies). The type of affirmation you should be using is one you combine with actions, for example:
    • you might say to yourself, “I rehearse my speeches until word perfect and feel no fear or anxiety that accompanies not knowing what to say.” Then you practice your speech over and over until you know it inside out, thereby reducing the fear of fluffing your lines.
  • Get excited. Research has demonstrated the roots of fear and excitement originates in the same part of the brain (the amygdala if you’re interested) and that a simple reframing exercise can turn anxious feelings into enthusiasm (and vice versa, so be careful with this one). When you’re feeling fearful or anxious, take a pause and remind yourself this is not fear but that you’re excited. This works well.
  • Meet your audience. Arrive early for your speech and spend some time meeting people to gain a sense of familiarity. Hold those interactions and friendly faces in mind and instead of giving a talk to a room full of complete strangers, you’ll be talking to friends. This is a very powerful tool I expand on in my course.

How do I stop worrying about public speaking?

Before we look at tips to help you stop worrying, we first need to acknowledge that our worries, fears and concerns exist for a very good reason but that reason is rooted deep in our evolution. As discussed earlier, doubts and worries prepare you for ‘fight or flight’ mode and, when viewed objectively, can be very useful. Even when applied to public speaking anxiety.

For me, the biggest failure to come from my very first public speech was to be over-confident and assume little preparation was needed which led to me discounting the usefulness of practice. If Id spent a little more time ‘worrying’ about my speech I would have gone through a process of understanding why those fears existed and educated myself on how to remove them and become an effective speaker.

Now you can see why ‘worrying’ can be useful and how a simple series of steps can eliminate those voices in the back of your head.

Here are a few tips to help you:


Use the tips above to reduce the feeling of worry and fear before you go out and speak. They’re highly effective and, when combined with other advice you’ll find on this site and in my course, shed your fears and let you focus on your speech.


Imagine you’re on stage and the limelight is on you. Your pulse quickens, rising from a soft rhythmic beat to a drum roll in your chest and head, and you feel like running. But don’t panic. You’ve already worked through the steps required to prepare for this moment, now all you have to do is calm those nerves. Here are a few tips:

  • Slow down and take a deep breath. This isn’t a race against a predator, it’s a sharing of thoughts and ideas. Take a deep breath and exhale, taking longer to breathe out than in. Repeat three times to slow your heart and loosen the muscles in your neck and chest.
  • Remember you’re excited to be here. Telling yourself the tension in your chest is a feeling of excitement that works both off and on stage and is an effective way of bringing your mind into a state of readiness. If you have any doubts about this practice, listen to athletes who’ve crossed the finish line in the first place – they never recall feeling anxious before the race, instead telling the interviewer how excited they felt.
  • Look for familiarity. Remember the tip about speaking to people before you talk? Find them with your eyes as you’re speaking and feel as if you’re engaging with them one-to-one and your worries will dissolve.
  • Be firm with your brain. Remind it you’re in control of the situation and you chose to be there.

How do I calm my nerves before public speaking

All of the above is based on personal experience gained over the last ten years. And here’s that decade in a nutshell:

  • practice often;
  • remember your listeners come first;
  • slow down and breathe;
  • find a friendly face in the crowd
  • use neuroscience to master your fears.


Overcoming my fear and anxiety took practice, detailed planning and a dive into neuroscience which allowed me to better understand the workings of the brain and how to calm my mind when standing on a stage. The process isn’t difficult when you have the necessary tools to hand, although it did take some work to turn myself into a speaker who is confident in his ability to give an excellent talk rather than being over-confident and lacking in those skills.

Now you might be wondering how long it takes to move from fearful to confident. For me, the process took several months and a lot of practice. But back then I didn’t know where to look for the information required to make me a better speaker, but I’ve condensed all my lessons into a series of notes I review before every speech and now I can present with confidence in a short space of time. And so can you.

Ultimately, a large part of producing a compelling talk is about mindset and this is something we can change with a little work.

I’ve written a condensed version of this post – a cheat sheet of sorts – which you download by signing up for my newsletter.

Talk about excitement – show the science. Be firm with your brain – you are in control.

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