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8 Tips on Overcoming Speaking Anxiety in Meetings and Presentations

Whether it’s speaking up to voice your opinion in a meeting or standing in front of people for a presentation, feeling anxious is completely normal.

The good news is there are so many ways you can overcome speaking anxiety in meetings and presentations - one of which is with this post, so you're in the right place.

This post will help you understand why we get anxious speaking in meetings, how to relax when presenting and insightful tips and tricks on overcoming anxiety and nervousness before speaking. 

Person stood at front of room talking about overcoming speaking anxiety in meetings and presentations

Contents:

What is Public Speaking Anxiety? 

Public speaking anxiety is a social fear of attending or speaking up in front of others during work meetings, presentations or in-person events.

This is also known as Glossophobia.

Individuals who suffer from public speaking anxiety may not always show physical symptoms. Some may feel comfortable meeting new people and performing tasks in front of others, but when it comes to speaking, that's where they tend to draw the line.

For many individuals, the fear of speaking in meetings is made worse by face-to-face interactions rather than audio calls due to the heightened pressure of interpreting and factoring in one's own body language.

What Can Public Speaking Anxiety Look Like in Meetings and Presentations

Physical symptoms of public speaking anxiety can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms can include:

  1. Sweating
  2. Shaky hands or voice
  3. Increased heart rate
  4. Feeling flushed or hot
  5. Nausea
  6. Dizziness
  7. Lightheaded

Aside from physical symptoms, public speaking anxiety can also bring up a variety of negative thoughts and feelings which can impact confidence. For example:

  • Feeling that everyone is laughing or talking about it
  • Not feeling confident in what you have to say
  • Worrying about how you look during a meeting or presentation
  • Feeling imposter syndrome (self-doubt in your own skills and abilities compared to others in the room or call)
  • Feeling tired or mentally drained after a meeting

If you live with an anxiety disorder, meetings and presentations can feel like an even bigger weight on your shoulders to perform well. You may avoid all meetings where you know you would need to contribute or avoid certain activities which could hold you back in your career. 

Since we're naturally programmed to fear public speaking, it can be one of the harder things to move past. But don't worry, there are ways to calm down this part of our brain. 

Why We Get Anxious Speaking in Meetings or Presenting: The Science Behind It

Our anxiety and fear of speaking in front of an audience goes back to prehistoric times when humans perceived eyes watching as a threat. In other words, our brain views public speaking as an attack which activates our Fight or Flight response - this is where the symptoms of fear and anxiety can appear.

When this happens, we begin to put up 'barriers' to avoid the danger. These can start from avoiding eye contact to looking down to try to hide or protect ourselves from the audience.  

What Can Cause Public Speaking Anxiety?

Having speaking anxiety can make you feel alone, but we're here to tell you that it is more common than you think. In fact, public speaking anxiety is one of the most commonly reported social fears.

Anxiety in meetings or presentations is often caused by a fear of: 

  1. Being judged
  2. Making an embarrassing mistake
  3. Everyone watching you and being in the 'spotlight'
  4. How you look while you talk
  5. Repeating a previous negative experience
  6. No one listening to you

Can People Tell if You Are Scared About Presenting?

Although you may physically show nervousness when presenting, just remember that you have no control over others and the audience will want you to succeed 99.9% of the time.

The best way to tackle these feelings is to embrace them the best you can. 

If you're feeling nervous about presenting, there's no harm in sharing your feelings briefly with the audience. This vulnerability will lighten the mood and foster empathy from your audience as everyone appreciates honesty. You can even make a small joke and bring your audience in even more if this would suit you better. 

Can Speaking Anxiety in Meetings and Presentations be Worse Virtually? 

Virtual face-to-face meetings can cause even more anxiety for some people. They may cause us to feel more pressure to look and act in a certain way due to the increased amount of eye contact and space on-screen.

This has been noted as 'Zoom Anxiety'.

It can cause extra questions to fly around our heads, including 'Should I look directly at the camera?' 'Are they listening or replying to emails while I'm talking?' or 'Can they hear the builders outside my house?'

We run several training courses designed to help professionals boost their public speaking skills and reduce anxiety, to get a taste of what you could learn watch our free taster session

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8 Tips to Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety in Meetings and Presentations

  1. Start Small
  2. Get Attention Away From Yourself
  3. Commit to Speaking Early
  4. Practice
  5. Don’t Think About Rejection
  6. Get Tips From Experts
  7. Try Relaxation Exercises
  8. Visualise Yourself Speaking

1. Start Small

If you know there’s going to be a point where you need to speak publicly and you’re new to it, start off small. Find some friends, colleagues or family you can practice in front of. In reality, the size of the audience doesn’t really matter but it’s much easier if you speak in front of smaller groups and build up from there.

If you know your topic, you’ll be just fine.

What to do if I Lose My Train of Thought When Speaking?

Anxiety takes up a lot of mental space and can be mentally exhausting. So when we arrive at the situation that's causing the anxiety, we're often so overloaded with thoughts and nerves that we experience 'brain fog' - an active stress response from our body. This brain fog can mean forgetting what we want to say, any points we want to make or what we're even doing at that moment. 

If you experience brain fog during a meeting or presentation, an effective way to combat it on the spot is to stop talking, take a deep breath and try to calm down your breathing. Yes, your audience might be staring at you, but in no time you'll be back on your feet with thoughts that you wanted to say. 

2. Get Attention Away From Yourself

Speaking in public means you’ll have all eyes on you. If that’s what makes you anxious, use visuals. They’re great for getting your message across in a more engaging way and perfect for drawing attention away from yourself.

When eyes aren’t on you, it’ll take the pressure off of you being alone in the spotlight.

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3. Commit to Speaking Early

The more you talk yourself out of speaking, the more the feeling of anxiety will build up inside you. By staying quiet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead, take the plunge and talk yourself into committing to at least one comment in a meeting. 

Whether it’s to welcome attendees or drive the meeting, it’s an easy way to ensure you contribute one way or another. The more this becomes regular, the easier it becomes over time.

One of the most common questions people ask when looking to overcome their speaking anxiety is about the sound of their voice. "How do I stop my voice from shaking when speaking?" or "Can other people hear it shaking?"

A shaky voice is often caused by the amount of adrenaline or anxiety rushing through our bodies during a meeting or presentation. This amount is caused by how we think about speaking, e.g. if our brain associates this activity as negative then we're more likely to get nervous which kickstarts the adrenaline. To try and combat this, think about:

  • Slowing down your breathing
  • Keeping hydrated
  • Keeping an upright posture
  • Trying to breathe with your stomach over your chest - top tip: place your hand on your stomach before speaking to calm down your breathing and take longer breaths.

4. Practice

A reasonable amount of preparation will leave you feeling more confident and prepared for when you need to speak publicly. If you don’t practice ahead of time, you’ll always have an uneasy feeling about how everything will turn out and everyone’s guilty of thinking the worst right away. 

Too much or too little preparation can catch you off guard as you don’t want to rely on a script. Prepare to a level where you know you’re comfortable and the rest will be a breeze.

It's not just your voice that's important, body language is just as important - read why

5. Don’t Think About Rejection

It’s common to think your audience will hate you, get bored or lose interest. Bringing those feelings and assumptions with you before you speak will only make you feel even more anxious. It’s easy to say but try to eliminate your fears of rejection or what the audience thinks of you.

Whether you’re speaking in a meeting or presenting, people are there to listen to you for a reason. They want value and you’re there to provide it.

Overcoming speaking anxiety is a challenge, but using assertiveness techniques can help ease the process. Here are 4 assertiveness techniques that prove you don't need to be an extrovert to be assertive.

6. Get Tips From Experts

You’re not alone when it comes to speaking anxiety. It’s quite common and you’ll find there are plenty of events and courses you can attend that cover this topic. It’s perhaps the best way to learn as thought leaders have been in the same boat, so it’s worthwhile learning about their experiences.

Take notes so you can mentally prepare yourself for the future when it’s your turn to speak publicly. Attending such events, picking up skills and using them in real-life situations, helps you get into a good routine of speaking publicly without always feeling nervous.

Listen to one of our expert trainers, Sandra Miller, as she tells us her top tips for speaking with impact

7. Try Relaxation Exercises

If speaking anxiety is something you can’t shake off, look into some relaxation exercises which can help ease the tension. Whether it’s physical breathing exercises or mental ones from experts on platforms like YouTube, you’re bound to find something that helps you eliminate those jitters.

Whenever it comes time to speak, just remember to breathe slowly. There’s no rush and it’s not a race to deliver your message in the quickest time. Pace yourself, have a drink of water and breathe slowly to get rid of the nerves. 

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8. Visualise Yourself Speaking

If you have negative thoughts, you’ll show more nerves when you’re about to speak. If you think positively, it’s more likely you’ll do a great job without feeling nervous. If you can picture yourself speaking confidently and doing a great job, it’s probably going to turn out that way.

That’s why practice is important as well. It gives you time to know when to pause, if you need to talk slower or faster and lets you analyse your body language. The more positive thoughts you have about yourself speaking publicly, the less anxious you’ll be.

We get it, overcoming speaking anxiety in presentations and meetings isn’t something you can achieve right away. The more courage you build up, the easier it becomes over time. But if you want even more help to make speaking anxiety a thing of the past, we have just the handbook for you.

Continue to Boost your Communication Skills with our Free Handbook

If you’re trying to become a more confident speaker in meetings and in public or you just want to improve communication within your team, then download our helpful communications guide. It’s packed full of tips, ideas and hints you can use right away.

To get your copy, click on the link below.

communication handbook for the public sector

Chloe Martin
Content Editor

2+ years in SEO and content marketing. Striving to help public sector professionals develop their skills and learn something new through high-quality content.