Anxiety reduction in public speaking

The fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, is the most common of all fears. Seventy-five percent of people have it, and I’m one of them. That probably surprises some people because public speaking is a part of my daily life. 

It’s impossible to avoid public speaking in leadership jobs. You simply have to work your way through it. Experts on anxiety will tell you one of the worst things you can do with your fears is run from them. Here are some tips that work for me that I hope can help you, too.

1. Be prepared. The more prepared I am, the less anxious I get before a speech and the better I perform overall. This correlation is so striking that I have taken to preparing a full text of my remarks before any meeting, presentation or speech of consequence. Going into a meeting with a script is a powerful fallback if the nerves strike. More often than not, the process of writing out my remarks has me so comfortable with what I plan to say that I don’t need to refer to my prepared comments. But, if the nerves strike, they’re there as a safety net. I’ve accepted that spending a lot of time writing remarks is a part of me being healthy in my job. This practice has reduced my stress level and increased the impact of my presentation more than I can express. Don’t rely on talking points or an outline. Write out every single word. 

2. Exercise. Much has been written about the stress-relieving impacts of exercise. I have always taken my fitness routine seriously, but a number of years ago I realized that the stress-relieving aspects of cardio workouts have a short shelf-life. When possible, I now slip in a cardio workout on the day of big presentations as close to go time as possible. If this means getting up early or running during dinner time before an evening speech, I do it. I always feel more alert, calm and positive before speeches as a result.

3. Limit alcohol. Never drink the day before, or even two days before a big performance of any kind. It fogs the mind and creates anxiety, which is counter to the whole program. Also avoid caffeine and other stimulants before the show.

4. Own it. The reason most people struggle with public speaking anxiety is because as humans we have a very primal need for social acceptance. Being on stage puts us in a position to potentially embarrass ourselves, which we think will lead to social ostracism. But I think more people are cheering for us than we think. Even if the worst happens and you totally freak out in front of a crowd, they’ll be far more compassionate than judgmental. Remember, most of them are just as frightened of public speaking as you are. This is your journey, own it!

As leaders, there is no escaping situations that create anxiety. If it becomes more than an annoyance, if you find yourself struggling just to get through the day, get help. There are a lot of therapists out there that specialize in helping executives manage stress. Find one and get on the path to more sustainable, more enjoyable career experience.

Dan is a member and former vice chairman of Feeding America’s National Affiliate Council and is currently chairman of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks’ board of directors.

Daniel Flowers

President and CEO


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