Stop Being Nervous About Public Speaking

I need you to give a presentation on our reorganization plan to the rest of the group. This is your baby, so there’s no one more qualified than you to explain it.

Why are you hiding under the desk? Stop sobbing. It’s only 30 people. Sure the big boss will be there. But this is your chance to show everyone what you got.

And you’re afraid to show everyone you have a severe case of stage fright.

You need to relax. You can do this. Even if you’re a certified introvert. Let me tell you how I get through these presentations.

It’s not about you

I know why you’re nervous. You’re afraid of making a mistake in front of an audience. Don’t want to look like a fool. But no one is coming to see you. They don’t care what you look like. There is a problem, and they want to find out what your solution is.

You owe them something. Don’t spend any time worrying about how you can mess up. Focus on what they want to know – not your ego.

Talk to someone

It’s still hard to shake off that nervousness. You’re going to stand in front of a group armed with a podium, projector and laser pointer. You’re brushing up on all the formal speechifying tips. Speaking like this in front of so many people is new.

So throw all that out of your mind. Imagine what you would say if you sat at a table with someone. What would you say?

Explain this to the audience like you would to just one person. Be direct, clear and friendly. Imagine talking to someone you know. What would it take to explain this to your spouse or bowling buddy?

This is going a long way to making your presentation more relaxed and natural.

Watch your jargon

You have specific language to describe what you do. And you use it everyday with coworkers. Will your audience understand this language? If you’re speaking to anyone who comes from outside your professional circle, it’s a good bet you’re using words they’re not familiar with.

Also, remember that you’re giving this presentation because you know something that your audience doesn’t. So by definition they’re probably going to have trouble with some of the vocabulary.

The trick is to use language that someone outside your office will understand without talking down to them.

Don’t be afraid to use notes

President Obama arguably is one of the best speakers of our time. And he uses a teleprompter. There’s no shame in using notes.

That doesn’t mean it’s OK to read from a script. You need to have familiarity with the content. Use the notes to remind you of what you’re going to say.

I love 3 x 5 index cards. I write a point on each card, turning a stack into an outline. Then it’s real easy to re-organize the speech by switching the order of the cards. Adding new points or throwing out unneeded parts is easy with index cards. While I work on the presentation, I add notes to each card to help me through it.

The trick is to have just enough information on each card so I can absorb it with a glance. The glances come during the pauses found in every speech and presentation. I use the pauses to check my cards. It keeps me on track and in the flow of conversation.

Practice, practice, practice

Stand up and practice out loud. This isn’t just a memorization step. It’s a chance to listen to yourself. That’s why you should record your practice. Listen for awkward phrases and gaps in logic. Put yourself in the audience and look for weaknesses in your presentation. It becomes much easier to spot the areas needing improvement.

And time yourself. You have a time limit for your presentation. See how close you are to that time. Despite what I first said, you’re going to be a bit nervous. And that’s going to speed up your delivery. But your speech will be slowed by questions and objections. So your practice time can be close to what you actually deliver.

Friends don’t let friends use PowerPoint

I have lost too much time in my life to weak PowerPoint slides. Too many people use them to spell out the same words they’re speaking. Lord help me.

But sometimes you need some help. Guy Kawasaki has great advice on using PowerPoint. Basically, keep it down to 10 slides in 20 minutes. Anything more is bordering on information overload.

Images have impact

OK, here’s a chance to use PowerPoint effectively. Find powerful images to illustrate your point. It will help the audience remember what you say. They will associate your words to the image on the screen. That strengthens the memory they will have. Plus when they see similar images later, they will be reminded of what you say.

Get help

I am a member of Toastmasters – an international public speaking club. Each meeting allows members a chance to give speeches and get feedback. There is a structured program that helps me develop public speaking skills one speech at a time. The feedback is invaluable (I’m working on increasing my speaking volume) and the more experienced speakers are incredibly informative to watch.

This is the best opportunity you will have to develop the skills and confidence you will need to rock your presentations.

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Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. Michael Keukert on the 21st April

    I think that I am a natural when it comes to public speaking. In fact I ENJOY public speaking, and with 15 minutes to prepare I can basically hold a 1 hour presentation in English or in my native language for an audience of 5, 50 or 500.

    I know many people who are scared of public speaking, but I found 3 very simple techniques that helped a lot of friends and aquaintances to overcome blockings:

    1) Speak loud
    I usually don’t requiere a microphone because I speak very loud (during presentations). Even to small groups I speak loud. In the truest sense of the word it sets the tone, and – even if this might seem silly – it gives you authority. Someone who speaks loud radiates competence and self assurance.

    2) Speak slow
    I am not a friend of the school of mind which says you should treat the audience like 3 year olds. However there is another benefit of speaking slow – it helps you keep on track, allows you to think ahead, and avoids those ahh and ehhh pauses.

    3) Keep eye contact
    That is probably the toughtes one for those who dread public speaking. I usually pick 3-4 people from the audience, and frequently establish eye contact with them. The selection of the people is not really important. I usually pick the ones I know already, or which turn out to have valid input and ask intelligent questions. My audiences are usually predominantly male, so I often pick the few females as well.
    Keeping eye contact has a double benefit: it gives you feedback from the audience. And also the audience themselve realize you have an interest in them. Even people you do NOT make eye contact with realize that you DO make eye contact with others. Again, your presence comes across more intense, more competent.

    There are many more tricks to public speaking, but I consider those 3 some of the basic ones where everybody can beneift from.

  2. The Simple Machine on the 22nd April

    I usually create a story in my head of what I want to tell and use powerpoint slides help me guide that story.

    My slides to supplement the information I am talking about. For example, I will through a chart on a slide and then tell the story during the presentation. Other slides, will have an outline of my thought process.

    The slides on their own without me speaking do not really tell a story. However, someone who has heard me speak, it serves are notes to jog their memory.

  3. Carl Natale on the 22nd April

    Good point, Simple Machine. I wish more presenters used this strategy.

  4. Ed Roach on the 22nd April

    I find notes too hard to follow, as I get lost too easily – then my ears are dancing all over the page trying to find my place. The best advice I was given was, “Ed, you know your stuff, just speak to the screen. Bring up a slide, glance at it and speak about it. When you feel you’ve about covered it, go to the next slide and repeat.”

    This means that the slide just shows the topic. You elaborate. For me this technique was brilliant. My slides are rich with graphics and I use Mac’s Keynote to assemble.

  5. Julius on the 23rd April

    I’ve realized that throwing a bit of light-hearted humor can help lessen the tention of speaking in front. This will also help you keep your audience entertained. We have to be careful though because any type of humor may not be appropriate in all situations.

    Creating a mental outline of the points I want to discuss has been also useful. Plus I never never memorize what I would say.

    And during each pause before going to the next point, I try to take a few seconds to ask if anyone has a question.

    • Michael Keukert on the 23rd April


      There is a small psychological trick to the question if there are more questions.

      If you ask “Does anybody have a question?” you put on pressure on the audience, and the one person who dares to ask a question first might fear that they get perceived as dumb by their peers.

      A slight change of wording does the trick: “What are your questions?”. This states as a fact that there ARE questions, but removes the perceived blame from the people who ask them.

      As little as it may sound, the effect is quite amazing.

  6. Chris on the 23rd April

    BRAVO! Dale Carnegie would be proud of you. This is powerful stuff you’re doling out here, especially “It’s not about you!” Well done!

  7. Luce on the 23rd April

    Thanks guys, great advices!
    It’s funny what you wrote Carl because this is exactly what I’m trying to tell myself everytime I have a big presentation.

    The only thing that bugs me is that my hands are so visibly shaking (hard) and I can’t stop them and I notice people starting to focus on that and I lose my strenghts. :/

  8. Carl Natale on the 29th April

    Thank you for the follow up advice. These are great points worth incorporating.

    I do have a problem with volume – not enough. That’s why practice is so valuable. It helps me establish a loud habit.

    Luce, someone told me to put my hands in front of my pockets, not in them. It gives me someplace to put them and projects my elbows to my sides. That projects a bigger image of myself that suggests confidence.

    That strategy may help keep your hands from shaking.

    Good luck.

  9. Jem Englert on the 12th May

    I couldn’t agree more with the PowerPoint section of this article. Recently i had to design a KeyNote presentation for an AAF student competition. Instead of putting alot of words on the slide, we would use a large, “impactful” pictures to demonstrate our key points.

    We placed first.

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