Glossophobia No More:
How To Conquer Performance Anxiety And Speak Confidently

Discover short- and long-term public speaking strategies for conquering performance anxiety and delivering your best presentation yet.

You’ve prepped your notes and have your research laid out in front of you. You know your points backward and forward, and your presentation is ready to go.

Nevertheless, on the day you’re supposed to present, your heart rate is through the roof. Your hands are shaking, your breathing is quick and shallow, and your vision is starting to blur.

Your presentation might be prepared, but you don’t feel at all ready to give it.

While this sort of thing may feel like it only affects you, nearly everyone experiences performance anxiety at some point in their lives. From managers and CEOs to actors and musicians, we’ve all felt that agitating rush that constricts our vocal cords and makes us feel sick.

In fact, one study showed that 60% of musicians suffer from glossophobia (fear of public performance).

That’s 60% of people who are trained to perform in public, battling feelings of panic to do what they love.

So, it isn’t just you. Performance anxiety is an equal-opportunity enemy.

01

What Is Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety goes by many names. Glossophobia, stage fright, fear of public speaking: they all refer to that paralyzing feeling that seems to send our heartbeat haywire. As we sweat and shake and go to the bathroom for like the fifth time, we wonder why we agreed to do this stupid thing in the first place.

Weirdly, many of us actually perform better with low levels of anxiety. A little burst of adrenaline can focus the mind, remove distractions, and keep us “sharp.”

The problem is that our adrenal system doesn’t always give us the microdose of epinephrine (adrenaline) that we need. Instead, it opens the floodgates and pumps our system full of adrenaline.

You’re worried about presenting in front of your boss, but your body responds as if you’re about to leap out of an airplane.

02

How Do You Know If You Have Performance Anxiety?

So, what’s the line? When does useful anxiety cross over into debilitating speaking anxiety?

The short (and annoying) answer is: “you’ll know it when you feel it”.

Low-level anxiousness often manifests like excitement. It can give you that “locked-in” feeling and make you laser-focused on your performance.

Performance anxiety, though, manifests more like panic. Everything around you may start to feel that it’s happening too quickly. You might feel like you’re moving in slow motion or like you’re disconnected from the world.

Fear of public speaking doesn’t only affect your emotions, however. The release of adrenaline into your system can trigger strong physical symptoms too. These can throw off your performance and often spiral into further anxiety.

Symptoms of glossophobia can include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shaking hands
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Lack of focus
  • Extreme focus on your fears or anxieties

If you’ve dealt with any of those symptoms before a presentation or performance, you may be dealing with performance anxiety.

03

What Causes Performance Anxiety?

Performance anxiety can arise for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s simply due to a lack of preparation.

Many of us naturally procrastinate before a big speech or performance. The thought of public speaking may make your skin crawl. If so, it’s often far easier to do laundry, watch Youtube, or do literally anything else that can distract you from the presentation.

Of course, that procrastination only tends to make glossophobia worse. Feeling unprepared is stressful, and the addition of an audience may prompt a severe fight-or-flight response.

But plenty of well-prepared presenters have a fear of public speaking regardless of their preparedness. It isn’t just the unprepared who suffer.

A particular audience member may also provoke your anxiety. You felt confident about your presentation until you learned that the CEO would be watching, for instance. Or a big investor decided to show up unexpectedly.

These listeners can raise the stakes for your speech. Suddenly, what felt like an easy day has new pressure added. That additional, unanticipated stress can spark a fear of public speaking, even if you’ve never felt it before.

In most cases, though, just performing is enough to cause performance anxiety. We expect our audience to have superhuman eyesight, to be watching us for any trace of nerves, ready to laugh at our first mistake. That expectation is called the “spotlight effect”.

The spotlight effect describes our tendency to overestimate how much other people are paying attention to us. We assume that our audience will hone in on every minute tremble in our hands. If our voice shakes even just once, we imagine our audience cruelly nodding to one another because they knew it was an act all along.

To put it in layman’s terms, we psych ourselves out.

The reality is that even on stage or in front of a group, people notice far less than we expect.

They are wrapped up in their own worlds: They might be tired, or hungry, or need to use the bathroom. It’s our own internal demons that are waiting for us to screw up, not anyone else.

It is a tricky feature of human physiology that we tend to equate public performance with mortal peril. We sense a social danger to a bad performance, and our bodies dutifully respond as if we’re in danger of being eaten.

04

How To Present Confidently Despite Performance Anxiety

The good news is that there are many ways to combat performance anxiety. Just as there’s no one thing that causes glossophobia, you also have several tactics to overcome it.

So, here are nine public speaking tips that you can use as you get ready for your next presentation.

You shouldn’t worry about all of these tips at once. Several of these will only work in the long-term. If you don’t have a presentation or performance on your calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get started with meditation or improv classes. That way, you’ll be prepared when a speech comes up.

Other public speaking tips will help you prepare your specific presentation. In the week leading up to your performance, you can employ these tips to ensure that you’re ready on game day.

The last set of advice will help you when the day finally arrives. No matter your preparation, performance anxiety can always strike when you’re about to walk on stage, so it’s good to have a few tactics ready to implement when you feel it coming on.

These public speaking tips will be more beneficial the longer you practice them. A couple months will help a lot. With several months of practice you may feel like a different person.

05

Public Speaking Classes

Every major city (and almost every less-major city) offers a variety of public speaking classes.

Exposure to public speaking and repeated practice in a sympathetic environment can help you prepare for speeches, presentations, and performances. Public speaking classes accustom you to standing in front of a roomful of people and teach you tactics to overcome your fear.

Now, structured public speaking classes might sound like too much hassle, or feel too expensive.

If so, venues like Toastmasters provide an inexpensive forum to practice speaking in front of a receptive, supportive audience. You receive feedback in a low-stakes, positive environment and meet people who have battled many of the same fears. Toastmasters has 16,600 clubs in 143 countries, so you are likely to find one within a short commute.

Practice makes perfect, so finding a safe forum can help you face your fear of public speaking and overcome it.

06

Improv Classes

Improv classes are available to most people within a few miles of a city.

Over the course of several weeks or a couple months, students are immersed in performing in front of strangers with absolutely no prepared lines. For those of us who suffer from stage fright, an improv class can function much like immersion therapy.

Practicing improv can help develop your:

  • Confidence
  • Listening skills
  • Spontaneity
  • Comfort on stage

These skills are all vital in presentations, whether you’re responding to questions or dealing with a malfunctioning projector. Developing a talent for thinking on your feet can help you feel calm and collected when the unexpected happens.

Not to mention that once you get used to creating scenes from scratch with no preparation, giving a prepared presentation begins to feel a lot less daunting!

07

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a strategy that many performers use to overcome their speaking anxiety. The fight-or-flight response that your body has before a speech isn’t actually necessary to ensure your survival. It’s usually a result of memories and cognitive associations that a therapist can help you address.

CBT can help you explore your fears and determine their source. With that knowledge, you can start to create new, positive associations with public speaking. For instance:

  • Instead of worrying that people will laugh at you, focus on getting them to laugh with you by including a few light jokes.
  • Instead of thinking about the stomach churning stress before speaking, imagine the joy and satisfaction that you’ll feel when you finish.

Over time, CBT can help you recognize the ways you might be sabotaging yourself and help you find new ways to limit and ultimately conquer your anxiety.

08

Practice With Someone

Practice is vital to successful presentations. While preparing your material is important, we often concentrate too much on what we’re going to say, and not enough on how we’re going to say it.

Some people like to practice in front of a mirror. That’s useful, but you’ll get significantly better return on investment by practicing in front of a friend.

Many folks understandably feel uncomfortable with that advice. Practicing with someone watching can be stressful.

It might not seem like it, but that’s actually a good thing.

The most successful athletes and professionals practice under mild stress to mimic performance conditions. You’ll feel a little anxious, but that will give you a better idea of how you’ll perform under pressure. And coping with mild pressure can help you develop tactics to manage severe pressure too.

Another person can also provide feedback that you won’t see in a mirror. A friend can tell you that you’re speaking too quickly, that a joke doesn’t land, or that a point is unclear.

A friend may also be able to help you with the flow of your performance. You’d rather have a trusted friend tell you that you repeat yourself on slide six than hear it from your boss.

That feedback is invaluable and gives you an opportunity to perfect things before your presentation.

Practicing can feel silly, so you want to ask someone you trust. But once you practice for a presentation with an audience, you won’t want to prepare without it ever again.

09

Create A Speaker Persona

Many of us have trouble standing in front of an audience. We feel embarrassed and nervous and worry about how people will judge us.

Crafting a speech persona can help you maintain your confidence in front of an audience.

It isn’t you who’s presenting, it’s your persona!

This tactic can psychologically separate you from the person performing. Assuming a character can help you take on the characteristics of the persona (confidence, charisma) and disconnect your anxieties from the person giving the speech.

It sounds a little jedi mind-trick-y, and it is, but it can also be an effective method of boosting your confidence if you’re naturally anxious.

10

Embrace Your Specific Speaking Fears

What’s the thing you fear most in public speaking?

Making a mistake in front of everyone?

Getting a difficult question thrown your way?

Silence?

Whatever it is, your mission is to be ready when it happens.

  1. If you’re worried about making mistakes, it’s worth remembering that everyone does it, literally all the time. Making a mistake, whether it’s a flubbed line or a misspelled slide, really isn’t a big deal. If you can laugh at yourself and calmly correct the error, your audience often won’t even remember it.
  2. Difficult questions are common in presentations, and remaining calm is the most important thing. So, have a plan for what to say. Be willing to say “I don’t know” confidently. People will admire a candid answer more than a flustered excuse. Tell them you’ll research the answer and get back to them, then do it.
  3. Many of us fear silence. We don’t even like to breathe during our presentations for fear of an overlong pause. Yet silence gives power to our arguments. It indicates that your point was important, or noteworthy, or at least funny. Though we tend to fear it, silence is as much a tool for your presentation as a pen or a powerpoint. Once you accept its power, you’ll learn to love silence.

The list of things we might fear in public speaking is endless. But if you get comfortable with all your worst-case scenarios, you’ll find that there isn’t much left to be anxious about.

At this point, your presentation should be finished and practiced. You have all your slides in order, you know the main points you want to make and you’re ready to answer questions.

Even now, however, performance anxiety can strike without warning. These public speaking tips will help you when you’re most at risk of glossophobia.

11

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are medication that stop your body from releasing adrenaline, preventing the physical symptoms of performance anxiety.

Taking a low dosage beta-blocker, one hour before a presentation can help keep your heart rate steady, your breathing slow and controlled, and prevent your hands from shaking.

Propranolol is the type of beta-blocker that is most often prescribed to treat glossophobia. Unlike other anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium, Propranolol is non-addictive, non-narcotic, and does not alter the chemical levels in your brain.

To be clear, beta-blockers won’t eliminate the fear of public speaking. They control physical symptoms, keeping your body calm even when your mind is racing. Still, preventing the physical symptoms of anxiety is certainly helpful.

Many people report feeling calmer and more centered on beta-blockers. This is because the physical symptoms of glossophobia often create a vicious spiral.

If you notice that your hands are trembling, that tends to make you more nervous, which increases the severity of the physical symptoms, making you even more nervous, etc.

Beta-blockers are often used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy for greater effect. Performers have reported significant benefits from undertaking CBT long-term and using beta-blockers as a short-term preventative measure to address acute glossophobia.

Like many other medications, beta-blockers require a prescription. Kick’s personalized beta-blocker prescription service can help you avoid the hassle of an in-person doctor’s appointment, and help you determine if beta-blockers are right for you.

12

Meditate Or Practice Visualization

Meditation is used by many performers, business professionals, and CEOs to drill and focus the mind. A few minutes a day of silent reflection or concentration on your breathing can pay dividends over the long term.

On the day of your performance or presentation, deep breathing and meditation can help you bring your focus to your breath and away from the shrieking torrent of fear that’s attacking your brain like a hydra.

Breathing deeply into meditation helps indicate that you’re safe and relaxed. It helps your body realize that there’s nothing to fear, and can help calm your physical and emotional reactions to speaking anxiety.

Visualization functions similarly to meditation, but many people find visualization easier in moments of stress. It’s very simple and involves concentrating on an image in your mind.

The image you choose to concentrate on can be anything, so long as it’s calming. For instance:

  • An outdoor scene, like a dock on a calm lake
  • A serene, blue light
  • A crackling campfire
  • The end of your presentation

Try a few options out and see what you find most calming.

It is worth noting that a sporadic, occasional meditation and visualization won’t do you any harm, but a longer-term habit greatly improves its effects.

People who meditate tend to find that their control over their mind deepens. Anxieties affect them less, and they find it easier to shift their focus away from their fear of public speaking. Meditation doesn’t eliminate their fears, it just improves their ability to squash them.

13

Be Ready When Anxiety Strikes

If you know you have a fear of public speaking, you should be ready to face it. Glossophobia is a common problem, and it’s far harder to address if it’s unexpected.

If you have strategies in place to deal with it, though, then you can be ready when it hits. You won’t need to scramble to recognize what’s going on or try to remember the public speaking tips you read that one time.

Instead, you’ll be able to say: “Yep, there are those butterflies in my stomach, and my armpits have become sweat fountains. Time to implement my coping mechanisms.”

And those mechanisms will be far more likely to work.

14

Conclusion

Dealing with performance anxiety can feel like a constant battle against yourself. It’s frustrating to lack control and to feel like your own body is working to sabotage your presentation.

Still, it’s important to recognize how common this fear is. Many people suffer from it and, more importantly, many people also overcome it.

Everyone has their own ways to deal with the fear of public speaking. Some of these tips may work well for you, while others are less effective. The important thing is that you find what does work for you and make it part of your preparation routine.

When you have a presentation coming up, your preparations become a lot more precise. You’ll want to practice these public speaking tips with your presentation in-hand to help you find what works best for you.