How To Manage Nerves When You Have To Speak In Public

How To Manage Nerves When You Have To Speak In Public


Not ago, Netflix added all 9 seasons of the sitcom, "Seinfeld" to their service here in the UK.

I love the show (I’m American and lived in NYC for years,) and I've watched the entire series from beginning to end several times over the years, so it's been fun to see English friends discovering, as they put it, "what all the fuss is about."

One of my all-time favorite lines from Jerry Seinfeld's stand up is about public speaking --

" Speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing. Number two is death. Death is number two?

This means, that to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy."

- Jerry Seinfeld, "I'm Telling You For The Last Time" (Netflix)

Sadly, it's true.

So I thought I'd take a break from binge-watching season 4 to share a few tricks I use myself to manage game day nerves.

(And by success, I mean relative success; slowing that river of sweat, settling your shaky hands and bringing your heart rate down below, say a hummingbird's.)

Life's about progress, not perfection, right?

TIP #1: Manage your expectations.

You’re not Brené Brown.

On an almost weekly basis, clients come to me to punch up their TED talk or presentation, telling me they want a Brené Brown-type speech.

Well, sure. Don’t we all?

But if you’re a data scientist whose last public speaking engagement was a 9th grade book report on “The Scarlet Letter,” a viral speech with 55 million views might not be a totally realistic expectation.

Not because you don’t have the potential to be great – you absolutely do.

But any skill takes practice, and Brené is a master of her craft. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Setting an unrealistic expectation for your speech means you’ll perceive failure before you even start, and get stuck in the “I can’t do this” loop.

Why do that to yourself?

So, what is a realistic goal that will set you up for success?


And here’s some great news – that’s all your audience wants from you.


TIP #2: Prepare

You know that recurring nightmare where it’s finals week and you forgot to study — and wear pants?

Feeling unprepared for a big moment is terrifying. Even your subconscious knows it.

So what does preparation mean? It means taking the time to write and polish your speech, AND THEN PRACTICE IT!

Read it out loud over and over again. Doesn’t matter if you’re reading it to an empty room. (A few more tips on how to practice your speech here.)

If you’ve ever played sports, why did your coach make you do drills?

Muscle memory and coordination.

No matter how much you’re dreading the big day, knowing you can spout off your speech backwards, forwards, and standing on your head is a massive confidence builder. (And if you are able to deliver it on your head, please send me the video.)


TIP #3: Breathe! (Literally.)

A good friend of mine is a vocal coach who works with people who have anxiety and confidence issues.

She’s also a successful singer/songwriter who’s been very open about her own struggles with anxiety. And yet manages to go onstage night after night.

When it comes to nerves and stage fright, she tells students –

“It’s not about getting rid of nerves. You are a human being with a heart and feelings. Nerves are a perfectly natural response.

I’d worry if you weren’t nervous.

The real key is finding the right tools to manage your nerves.”

—Susie Wilkins, vocal coach specializing in students with anxiety

To take the edge off right before showtime, she recommends a breathing exercise called resonant breathing 

Do this for 2-5 minutes, right before delivering your speech:

Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for five (5) seconds, trying to consciously bring your breath deep into your belly.

Hopefully these three tips will quiet down those butterflies fighting out an octagon cage match in your stomach.

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Hi, I'm Beth. I'm a comedian, an Emmy-winning comedy writer, and the founder of Authentically Funny Speeches.

In addition to my tv writing career, since 2017, I've been helping people just like you create and deliver amazing toasts and speeches.

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