What is the best way to stop nervousness before speaking in public?

I loathe having to speak in public. I will go to any extreme to avoid having to do it. Many people have suggested practicing breathing control/imagining the crowd is naked/learning the speech by heart etc. as good solutions. Obviously, there is no fail safe way to prevent the sense of terror that some people are subjected to before making a speech but any suggestions would be much appreciated.
For example, could somebody explain the medical/psychological reasons for the symptoms of pre-speech nerves? (sweaty palms, shaking, loss of clarity of thought, stammering etc). That might suggest a solution.

Just tell yourself that these people are there to hear you speak, and that nothing bad will happen. Works for me.

Some of these tips may be helpful:

That big group of people out there? They don’t care about you. Really. Anyone could give the talk and it really wouldn’t matter. Unless you’re George Carlin or something.

They are all sitting out there waiting for information to slide into their little heads. They don’t care who does it.

When was the last time you sat through a presentation (given with a modicum of professionalism) and you really critiqued the speaker.

Just know your stuff and enunciate.

The whole “picture them in their underwear” dodge? P’feh. Just pretend your the President Most High for Life, and you have a Goon Squad that’ll knock around the first schmuck that falls asleep. It’s much easier and there’s less imagining to do.

Or just know your stuff and enunciate.
-Rue. (who got a “B” in Speech class)

Personally, I’d say just let yourself be nervous. For me I’m most nervous RIGHT before I speak or go onstage, but the minute the curtain opens or I walk up there, I’m ready and all the butterflys in my stomach die like they snorted 210 proof DDT.

I’ll just give you the old stand by…

Imagine the audience is nekkid//

Try not to laugh…k?

The answers so far are to the IMHO part of the OP. Which is fine, of course, but I’d really hate to move it there before someone can opine on this part:

Learning that would be pretty cool.

Here’s an absolutely medically proven cure for nervousness before public speaking. “Inderal.” It blocks the receptor sites for adreanline. Believe me it works. I saved a guys career by telling him about it, and it truly is clinically proven.

Inderal is the brand name for the generic drug propranolol, a beta blocker. What it does is prevent reception at adrenergic receptors.

I take it. I have essential tremors that are (well, not necessarily the same thing in all people) the result of an hereditary malfunction in the hypothalamus that results in release of adrenaline to one’s system at times that are not appropriate or desired. Anxiety can do the same thing.

IANAD, and they don’t all agree about what beta blockers can and can’t do.

All that being said, I do give lots of presentations and occasional talks and that’s when I take propranolol, 40 mg, an hour to an hour and a half before I’m on. Works great for me - it lasts about 4 hours. Prescription drug, cheap (40 pills cost ~$7).

It’s also used as a treatment for high blood pressure. You don’t want to take it and do any marathon swimming.

Another thing I’ve found helps is if I can control the timing of the beginning of my part in the event. It is not good to have an MC get up and get you to stand up and wait while he or she babbles on about you for a bit. If you can control the timing of the start of your delivery it goes much better.

And the beginning is where it’s at. If you can just get going it tends to be downhill from there. If you feel the shakes starting, youu can always make a comment to the effect that, “I always tighten up for a minute when speaking to this group.” As someone noted above, the audience doesn’t really care.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

If you know, really know, what you’re going to be speaking about, it should go just fine.

When I was training to be an instructor, they had us make two 5-minute presentations. We got to pick whatever topic we wanted for the first one. Those were easy. The second presentation, they gave us a topic five minutes beforehand, and then we had to get up there and just talk about it (my topic was “Preparing a table for a formal dinner.”) They also videotaped us. It was through watching the second videotape that we discovered what our “nervous” mannerisms were.

If you have a camcorder, you can try presenting your speech to yourself.

One more thing…

If there’s a Q&A session after your speech, it’s OK to say “I don’t know; I’ll have to check and get back to you on that.” Better to be honest than spout something incorrect.

Ringo has basically answered this. Let me just make explicit, again, the role of adrenaline (epinephrine). In tense situations such as public speaking, adrenaline levels are high. Adrenaline is the prototype “fight or flight” hormone. So, it raises the heart rate and causes the heart to pump more forcefully. Hence the palpitations. Adrenaline also increases the blood flow to your muscles and directly stimulates the muscles themselves. This causes your muscles to basically shake, hence the tremors. In most genuine fight or flight situations, your body will be generating a lot of heat (from all that muscle activity). So, teleologically at least, this explains why adrenaline also leads to sweating, i.e. it helps cool off your body. The lack of clarity of thought is, I would speculate, an advantage in a real fight or flight situation where conscious deliberation is a disadvantage because it slows you down. In such situations, reflex actions are what is important.

Listen to the wise words of John Belushi, from Animal House:

My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.

No, seriously. I have a really hard time giving a speech. It’s easier if you remember that they don’t care as much as you think they do. They don’t expect you to be perfect, just remember that if you make a mistake, don’t draw attention to it unless you have a really, really good joke about it.

Except for the fact that I’ve won all of the ribbons for “Best First Speech”, “Best Critique” and “Best Moderator” (or whatever the ribbons are for) without ever even joining the Toastmasters organization, I’ll nonetheless give you my best read on the situation. My personal joke for the occasion follows;

On my first opportunity to speak in front of a large crowd, my nervousness was such that I was obliged to remember the words my Toastmasters mentor told me. He said, “Just try to imagine all of the audience members in their underwear.”

This I did, except for the fact that there was a particularly attractive young woman in the front row. As I started to picture her and myself in the most revealing of undergarments I began to realize, to my horror, that I was standing in front of a Plexiglas lectern. Much to my own shock and dismay I slowly felt a sure degree of sympathy for this pretty young lady in her imagined lingerie. Despite my dawning (not to mention increasingly and embarrassing awareness), I managed to recall the guiding words of my original instructor;

“Avoid being too stiff in your delivery…”

**From Frank:


Philo…who also got a B in Speech


Some years back, I took the Dale Carnegie Course. If you can afford it, I recommend it. I later joined Toastmasters, which probably has a club in your town. Cheaper, slower,but also very good. The best way to become comfortable about public speaking is the memory of making it through your previous speech alive. I once got a very valuable piece of advice from a shrink. He told me the symptoms of fear are almost impossible to distinguish from the symptoms of excitement. As long as you can’t tell, just assume you’re excited, and go on with your speech.

Keep in mind, too, that it’s natural to get nervous before speaking. If, someday, you find that you’re not nervous pre-speech, check your pulse to see if you still have one.

I am a great believer in propranolol (see Ringo’s post). It doesn’t make you less nervous; it just controls those symptoms of nervousness which tend to feed off of each other. There are quite a few sites that discuss it. Just do a Google search.

Better living through chemistry. If you really get freaked out by public speaking, beta blockers alone will not help. Yes, the drug will not allow your heart to race or blood pressure to soar but it doesn’t do a damn bit of good in the terror department. Knowing the material you’re to present, taking Inderal combined with Xanax, and humor is the best way to get through the experience. And <sigh> just think of the relief when it’s over. Good Luck!

A book review in today’s Independent in the UK (but which doesn’t appear to have been posted on their website) claims that Gladstone’s solution to pre-speech nerves was laudanum.

More legally and personally, in my experience, some nerviousness beforehand helps one’s actual delivery. Beyond that, the main thing seems to be whether you do know what you’re talking about. If you’re the expert on the particular (possibly extremely narrow) subject, then that’s normally more than enough.

I’ve always found that throwing up from the nausea to work very well…

Seriously though, I’ve always imagined them have a big grotesque lump in the middle of their forhead. It’s great for helping me get over THEM looking at ME, and it makes good with the eye contact. They can’t tell the difference between me looking at that huge lump on their forhead, and looking them in the eye.