Alleviating Presentation Anxiety
By Chelse Benham
“A man who suffers or stresses before it is necessary, suffers more than is
necessary.” – Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI), one of the six tribes of the Iroquois
Confederacy who occupy aboriginal lands in New York State set aside by the
Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794.
What is presentation anxiety? At www.brookes.ac.uk it is defined as a response
to fear that manifests itself in a number of physical ways such as: blushing,
shaking, stuttering, sweating, being tongue tied and mental confusion. With those
public speaking side effects, is it any wonder that some people may fear public
speaking more than death itself?
“As soon as possible if you have to give an impromptu speech begin jotting
things down immediately and make an outline that you can follow,” said Lourdes
Servantes, placement specialist at The University of Texas-Pan American’s
Career Placement Services Office. “Be sure to control your voice tones or rate of
speech. Speaking fast influences your thoughts causing them to race. By
controlling and slowing down your speech it prevents you from stumbling over
words and racing through your presentation which can come across as being
nervous and unprepared.”
English Channel, a tutorial web site for students and teachers of business
English, identifies reasons why many people are afraid of public speaking. Most
speakers have two kinds of fears - fears about the audience and fears about
themselves - that shake their sense of self esteem affecting their performance.
Some fears about the audience may be the following:
• they will see that I am fearful
• they will hear my mistakes
• they will not understand what I mean
• they will dislike me
Statistically, five percent of the audience will not like you or your speech no
matter how well you perform. This is related to the fact that five percent of the
people you meet in life will dislike you, no matter how kind you are. Just accept it
and don't worry about it.
Fears about themselves:
• I do not have the necessary skills
• I will make mistakes
• I will forget what I wanted to say
• I will be very nervous and the audience will know it
If your fears are in this list you should feel relieved already. It means that your
fears are very common and that most speakers share these same fears.
“Act confident when giving your presentation or speaking in public,” said Dr.
Salma Ghanem, associate professor and chair of the Department of
Communication at UTPA. “You may not feel confident, but don’t let your
audience sense your discomfort. The most important advice I can give someone
who is about to make a presentation is to prepare.”
Peter Murphy, a peak performance consultant and author of a free weekly ezine
about communicating under pressure, reported on a technique to help alleviate
public speaking anxiety. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of how
people represent experiences, real or imagined, to themselves internally and the
corresponding effect of this on their nervous system functions. Dr. Richard
Bandler, a Gestalt therapist, and John Grinder, a respected linguist, jointly
developed NLP in the 1970s. Today these NLP strategies are used around the
world by therapists and business executives to cope with pressure and to
perform at their best when they need to. An easy to learn NLP technique called
“anchoring” is a simple way to change any negative feelings to a positive feeling
in a matter of moments. When you create an anchor you set up a stimulus
response pattern so that you can feel the way you want to, whenever you need
to. Steps to creating a powerful anchor are:
1. Identify the emotional state you want e.g. confidence, calmness,
enthusiasm. This step is crucial, you need to define very specifically how you
want to feel.
2. Recall a particular time in your life when you felt the desired state. Pick a
powerful example. It is worthwhile looking back at your memories to relive times
when you had this desired state, the context is unimportant, what is important is
recalling a few particularly strong experiences and then selecting the most
3. Create state: In your imagination put yourself back into that experience
as if it is happening in this moment. Notice what you see, hear what you were
hearing, feel what you were feeling in the moment. Allow it to be as if it is
4. Establish anchors: Notice how the state builds to a peak and then
declines. Now repeat step three only this time just as the state is about to peak,
make a unique gesture with the fingers of one hand as you say a word or phrase
to evoke the feeling, while also visualizing an image that represents the state. i.e.
clench your left fist as you softly say to yourself ICE COOL while you picture
someone who represents calmness for you i.e. a Buddhist monk. Hold the state
for a few moments, release the anchors and then break state (change your
emotional state by thinking about something completely different and by
changing your posture). Repeat this five times.
5. Test the anchors by firing them (make the unique gesture, say the
word/phrase, picture the person that represents calmness) and check that
you do experience the desired state.
To make sure your anchoring works as well as possible you need to learn about
the secrets to powerful anchoring. There are six distinctions that will strengthen
your anchoring skills.
1) Only anchor an intense state i.e. a strongly felt experience.
2) Pick an experience that is pure and not mixed with other feelings.
3) Use unique anchors so the state is only accessed at will.
4) Timing is crucial, fire the anchors before the peak and
release before the peak declines.
5) Spend time at anchoring to become skillful. Allow 20-30
minutes per session.
6) Reinforce periodically to keep the anchor strong since the
intensity may fade over time.
Using anchors can make a massive difference in your ability to speak in public.
Instead of hoping you will feel capable when you next need to express yourself,
just fire your anchor and in a moment feel the way you want to feel. This
technique can help during a presentation “black out.”
Sometimes when presenting, a speaker may have a “black out” or momentary
loss of focus and train of thought, but there are strategies to help maneuver
through such moments.
• Use your anchor to try to get back on track.
• Stop and admit you have a black out. Pause. Then think back to the point
you discussed before the black out and start again from there.
• Look at material that you have; cue-cards, transparencies, notes. Ask the
audience where you were.
• Skip the point you were going to discuss and continue with the next point.
• Make a joke (which you prepared in advance). For example: "if you don't
know what's happening, don't worry, neither do I."
Alleviating public speaking anxiety can begin at the time you pick your topic for
discussion. The subject you choose directly impacts your presentation of it. At
The English Channel good subject topics should fall in these categories.
• Take a subject that you are familiar with or (even better) expert at.
• Take a subject that is current.
• Take a subject about which you have a clear opinion.
• Take a subject that is not too general or too specific. So don't try to do a
presentation on the economy of the United States in 15 minutes. General
subjects should be narrowed down.
Dr. John Mason, psychologist and author of two popular books, “Guide to Stress
Reduction” and “Stress Passages: Surviving Life's Transitions Gracefully,”
suggests helpful tactics to manage stress.
• Exercise three to five times per week to elevate your heart rate for 15-45
minutes. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program if
you have been inactive for a long while.
• Eat regular meals.
• Practice positive self-talk.
• Don’t use drugs of any sort (alcohol, stimulants, even too much caffeine)
to "get through" it can adversely affect performance leaving you even less
able to perform well.
“Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Dr. Hans Selye, pioneer of
stress research in the 1930s (1907 -1982)