5 Bits of Advice to Avoid If You Want to Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety

Nervous Woman Holding MicrophoneSome people say that public speaking is one of the top things people fear. In fact, these same people say that most of us would rather get root canal or be audited by the IRS than to have to give a speech.

I don’t know if I agree people would rather face an IRS audit, but I do know that most people fear public speaking and try to avoid whenever possible.

To overcome public speaking anxiety, many people turn to techniques that not only don’t help, but actually make them more nervous and make their presentations less effective.

Here are the five most common bad pieces of advice people often receive when they’re trying to overcome speech anxiety.

1. Look at people’s foreheads instead of their eyes. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this technique you know it doesn’t work. It’s very obvious to audience members when a speaker is looking at their foreheads or over the top of their heads. As a result, you don’t make a connection with your audience and may appear aloof or arrogant.

Instead: Get to your presentation location early and make some new friends. Then, when you speak, look around the room and make eye contact with your new friends. You don’t have to look every audience member in the eye, but you do need to “connect” with the entire room.


2. Drink plenty of coffee so you’ll project energy. The truth is, coffee is just going to fuel your nervousness. You’ll talk too fast, sweat more, and probably stumble over your words, or your own feet.

Instead: Avoid coffee altogether. Your nervousness will give you plenty of energy. I’ve never seen a public speaker fall asleep at the lectern.


3. Start with a joke to loosen up the audience and yourself. I don’t know about you, but I only know two people in my life who are really funny, and I’m one of them. If you’re not the other, you could be setting yourself up for failure by starting with a joke. If the joke doesn’t work because it’s not funny, is in bad taste, it doesn’t tie to your topic, or you just don’t have the gift of delivery, the audience won’t laugh, or worse, will groan. A bad start to your speech will cause your anxiety to increase dramatically.

Instead: Use one of the many other, safer, attention getting techniques. Start with a question, a story, or a startling or attention-getting statistic.


4. Picture the audience naked, or in their underwear. The rationale behind this technique is that you’ll see the audience as human or vulnerable– just like you. I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of anyone who found this technique to work. In fact, picturing the audience naked is likely to either disgust you, or be very distracting.

Instead: Practice your introduction to the point, ALMOST, of having it memorized. I don’t believe anyone should ever memorize a speech. A memorized speech sounds canned and is usually delivered with flat nonverbals that make you sound like you’re reading a script, which you are, the one in your head. However, if you know your introduction extremely well, you’ll be more likely to deliver it with ease and confidence, which will get you off to a great start.


5. Memorize your speech so you’ll know every word, which will make you less nervous. I’ve already mentioned some of the drawbacks of memorization. However, one of the biggest drawbacks of memorizing your entire speech is that you WILL lose your place at some point. Once you do, how do you get it back?

If you don’t have any notes, you’ll have nothing to refer to. You’ll have to rewind the memorized script in your head and will end up repeating things you’ve already said. Alternatively, you’ll have to fast forward to a point you’ve not covered, and will skip things you should have said in between.

Even if you do have notes, it’s unlikely you will have kept up with them, because you’re reading from a script in your head instead. Therefore, when you lose your place, you’ll have to suffer through the uncomfortable delay as you shuffle through your speaking notes to find the spot where you left off.

Instead: Practice your speech several times, to the point you feel really comfortable with the material. Create a great speaking outline with text that’s big enough for you to see, clear transitions, and even delivery tips in the margins, such as “make eye contact,” or “smile at the audience.”


Finally, most great public speakers will tell you that public speaking anxiety will never, and should never, fully go away. If a speaker has no apprehension or isn’t feeling a little energy before a speech, he or she has probably become overconfident and is likely to make a mistake.

Your goal as a speaker is not to eliminate your anxiety, but to manage it and make it work for you. As the saying goes, you won’t get rid of all those butterflies in your stomach, you just want them all to be flying in the right direction.

Best of luck on your next presentation!


For more help in overcoming public speaking anxiety, check out my previous blog post, 10 Tips for Controlling Speech Anxiety.




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20 Visual Presentation Guidelines I Try to Follow

Many people say PowerPoint is dead, killed off by the new generation of online presentation tools such as Prezi.

However, in most corporate, education, and other environments PowerPoint is still the tool of choice.

I don’t think PowerPoint is going away anytime soon and having attended several presentations over the past few months that fell under the category of “Death By Powerpoint,” I’d like to reiterate the importance of creating good visuals for your presentations—no matter what tool you use.  

Here are 20 guidelines you can follow if you want to create visuals that enhance your presentation and engage learners rather than detract from your presentation and put your audience to sleep.


Status Update1. Match your design to the theme of your presentation

2. Avoid overused “stock” template designs.

3. Keep animation (moving, flying, flipping text and pictures) to a minimum.

4. If you use video, don’t let it become your presentation.

5. Use a minimum number of READABLE typefaces (not fonts- fonts are styles and sizes of typefaces).

6. Be consistent in font size for headers, main text, and sub-points.

7. Be sure your font size is appropriate for the size of your projection and your presentation room. I try to use 30 point or higher for body text.

8. Choose your color scheme wisely. Some colors just don’t go together, like a red background with green text. You want to choose colors that are easy to see and go with your theme and the mood you’re trying to set for your presentation.

9. Use a light background with dark text for most presentations.

10. Don’t use Comic Sans … ever!

11. Try to stay within the 6X6 rule. Use no more than six words across and six lines down. NO PARAGRAPHS.

12. A picture IS worth 1,000 words- use pictures to help tell, or sell, your message.

13. Only select quality pictures. A fuzzy, stretched out picture is not worth using.

14. A visual isn’t a script, it should only include keysword/prompts. People are coming to hear you speak. If they wanted to read, or be read to, they’d have bought a book.

15. When using tables or graphs, label them clearly.

16. Just because your table/graph is labeled clearly, doesn’t mean you don’t have to explain it. You can’t just stand there and say, “Here are the stats,” and pause silently for a minute.

17. Practice using your visuals BEFORE your presentation- what pops up on the screen shouldn’t be a surprise to you.

18. Test your presentation onsite well before your presentation. Try it out in the room and on the equipment you’ll actually be using to ensure everything works properly and your presentation can be seen from all angles and distances in the room.

19. Don’t talk to your visual, talk to your audience. It’s okay to look at your visual occasionally, but your attention should always be on your audience.

20. Use an “appropriate” amount of visuals.  There really aren’t any strict rules for the number of visuals you should have in a presentation. It really depends on the content of your visuals. If they’re more text  heavy, you’d probably use fewer. If they consist of one or two key words or just graphics, you may use more. What you don’t want to do is what I experienced at a recent presentation. The presenter flipped through her slides as fast as a Vegas dealer shuffles a deck of cards. When the audience asked her to slow down, her response was, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll email you the slides later.” My thought was, “If that’s the case, I could have just stayed home in my pyjamas and reviewed your slides from the comfort of my couch.”


A final thought: these guidelines aren’t LAW, they’re just recommendations, but I think they’re a good place to start.


What other guidelines would you add to this list? Or, what are your PowerPoint or other visual presentation pet peeves?

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Stop Beating a Dead Horse: 5 Reasons You Should Stop Using Cliches (and Idioms)

At the end of the day, the bottom line with communication is to create a win-win situation between you and your audience. In a nutshell, you want to communicate your message clearly.

Okay, how many clichés have you counted so far?

According to Dictionary.com, a cliché is, “A trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. The site defines idioms as, “Expressions whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements,” and goes on to clarify that idioms are often culturally specific and don’t translate well into other languages.

cart_before_the_horseSince I don’t want to turn this into an English lesson, I’ll stop here with the definitions. The bottom line is that clichés and idioms are best avoided. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. They’re worn out and boring.

As the dictionary entry above notes, words and phrases become clichés because they’ve been overused.

2. They don’t translate.

Clichés don’t translate well to other languages and they don’t cross generational lines well either. The phrase, “Salute smartly and carry on,” probably makes sense to veterans and those from the “traditionalist” generation– it loosely translates to “do what you’re told to do.” However, for younger people who haven’t served, the phrase probably has no meaning. Additionally, if you translated, “salute smartly,” into another language; the true meaning of the phrase would be lost.


nipped in the butt3. You may be using them incorrectly anyway.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I nipped it in the butt”? The correct phrase is, “nipped in the BUD,” meaning, to stop something in its early development. The phrase relates to nipping buds from plants before they’ve had a chance to bloom, in order that the plant will produce even more flowers.

Other examples include “difficult road to hoe,” and “six and one and half dozen of the other.”


4. They tell people you’re lazy and lack imagination.

Rather than taking the time to express yourself clearly, you opt instead to toss in one, or a dozen, “borrowed” phrases.


5. They make you sound fake.

A boss who asks employees to “think outside the box,” or “give 110%,” and tells them he or she is available, “24/7,” just sounds like a phony. The same goes for everyone who overuses clichés- they become cliché.

I’ve given you some of my personal favorites. Here are a few business-specific cliches that drive me crazy.

– Heads up

-Touching base

-Value added

-Paradigm shift

-Drop the ball

-Take it to the next level

Can you add to the list?


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10 Tips for Controlling Speech Anxiety

speech anxietyPeople often ask me, “Can you eliminate speech anxiety?”

My response is usually, “Why would you want to?”

I’ve found that people who have ZERO speech anxiety before a presentation have usually gotten lazy, sloppy, or cocky.

If you have no butterflies in your stomach at all, then it’s possible you don’t care and when you don’t care, you make mistakes.

For speakers who care, public speaking anxiety will never be totally gone. It may increase or decrease based on the audience, the topic, or the “stakes” of the presentation, but it will always be there. It’s what keeps you on your toes.

However, you certainly do want to control your nerves, otherwise, you’ll be miserable before and during the presentation, and could lose credibility by appearing unprepared, unprofessional, or lacking in expertise.


Tips for Keeping Speech Anxiety Under Control

1. Be prepared: Thoroughly research the topic and write your speech outline well in advance of your speech!

2. Know your audience: The more you know in advance about your audience’s demographics, size, knowledge on the subject, etc., the more prepared and comfortable you’ll feel and the more “customized” your presentation will be for that group.

3. Practice your presentation: By practice, I mean present it as if you were in front of your audience rather than just reading and re-reading your outline. If possible, practice in front of a “live” audience and get their feedback on your presentation. Also, be sure to practice SEVERAL times, not just once.

4. Stay with what you know: The worst presentation I ever gave was in college when I picked an unfamiliar topic. Sticking within your realm of expertise or experience helps you save time “learning” new information and you can apply that saved time to organizing your content and practicing your delivery.

5. Control your internal critic: Don’t let that little voice in your head tell you you’re going to fail or make a fool out of yourself. If you listen to it, you will. When you hear it start talking, change the thought. Instead of “I’ll make a mistake,” think, “I’ll be so prepared I’m unlikely to make a mistake, but if I do make a mistake, I’ll correct it and move on. Everyone makes mistakes!”

6. Visualize a successful presentation: Close your eyes and start with the beginning of that day. You’re going to get up early, have a good breakfast, leave for the presentation location in plenty of time, have good directions, get into the facility and get set up well in advance of your presentation, get started on time, people are going to laugh at all the right places, you’re going to be charming and engaging, etc., etc. You get the picture- and that’s the point- mentally rehearse the presentation as a way to prepare and calm your nerves.

7. Move! Don’t be static during your presentation. Use hand gestures that come naturally. Step out from behind the lectern to move closer to and engage your audience. If you’re a novice speaker, plan movement into your presentation. Once you’ve written your outline, look for opportunities to gesture, move into the audience etc. A great time to move is when you’re telling a personal story. If it happened to you, you know the story; you don’t need to read it! Move out, tell your story, and move back silently when you’re done.

8. Watch what you eat and drink within 24 hours of the presentation: Especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Also, don’t try to “artificially control” your nervousness, i.e., take a sleeping pill the night before or have an extra (or a few) extra glasses of wine. You’ll then have to drink more coffee to get going in the morning, which will then make you more nervous!

9. Meet and greet your audience before the presentation: If you stand near the door of the room in advance and introduce yourself to people as you come in, you’ll find you’re giving the presentation to people you know, rather than strangers. Then, during the presentation, find the friendliest faces in the audience (be sure to find several around the room, not just one person in the front row) and make eye contact specifically with them before you get started.

confident speaker10. Finally, take steps to manage physical symptoms of speech anxiety:

Sweaty palms? Put baby powder or cornstarch on your hands right before you speak so you feel more comfortable.

Sweaty all over? Wear cool, comfortable, looser clothing, use prescription strength antiperspirant/deodorant, and blast the air conditioning in your car on the way to the presentation. Never wear your tightest, most uncomfortable suit that doesn’t breathe or move.

Dry mouth? Have a water bottle nearby with the cap off, ready to go. It’s okay to pause occasionally to have a sip, just don’t announce it, “Whew boy, I’m so nervous my mouth feels like the Sahara Desert, let me just take a drink of water.” Never announce your nervousness, or you’ll just draw attention to it.

Feeling faint or upset stomach? See #8 above!

Wavering voice? Be sure to speak BEFORE you get up to the lectern. That’s another benefit to the meet and greet at the door. You don’t want the opening word of your speech to be the first word you’ve spoken that day.

Fidgeting? Whether you adjust your clothing, play with your hair, twirl a necklace, rock back and forth, or cap/uncap a pen, these excessive and unnecessary movements are a sure signal to your audience that you’re nervous. Write a note every few inches in the margin of your outline reminding yourself NOT to do these things. Additionally, if you’re a hair fixer, usually women, you can put your hair up/back so it’s not in your face to adjust. As for fidgeting with objects, just don’t bring them with you- you don’t need a pen during a speech and if you’re a necklace or ring twirler, take them off before your presentation.


And one last bonus tip for those who have read this far: Speak from an outline, not a script and not note cards. Scripts end up being “read.” People don’t want you to read to them, they want you to speak. Note cards get shuffled, which is a distraction. They also get dropped– and usually by people who didn’t number the 100 note cards, so they have no idea how to get them back in order. A couple-page outline, laid out on a lectern, allows you to see where you’re going and frees your hands to gesture!


Comment and let us know if you have any other helpful hints or tips!


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