Teaching and Learning Resources

Presentations and Lecture Anxiety

Public speaking, it is commonly said, is one of the biggest fears people have. In academic training, speaking skills are rarely formally taught, which may increase anxiety and discomfort. Yet presenting and lecturing are two of the most important skills of an instructor and a scholar. It is a skill that is commonly tested—from in-class lectures to formal research presentations. These tips should help minimize anxiety or discomfort when having to give a public speech or lecture:

                                                    Psychology of Public Speaking Tips

1. Fully outline the presentation with all main points, examples and ideas- but
do not write it out word for word!

  • Rehearse giving your presentation based on the outline. This reduces anxiety because it makes the material seem more natural and familiar. Memorization increases pressure and the fear of messing up. Practicing this method allows one to be able to deliver a speech as if one were talking to a friend. Try to imagine delivering your speech as if it were a movie/series of ideas playing in your head. It will be easier to remember the connection between points in a natural manner.

2. Develop rituals that reduce anxiety.

  • Sports stars have lucky charms and rituals they use in order to more at ease. As a presenter you can do the same. Pick something that may give you emotional security so that you have the sense that no matter how it goes, you will still survive. Doing this helps curb the fight-of-flight response that causes anxiety, and with effective communication.

3. Realize that the people you are speaking to are just as insecure.

  • Anxious public speakers assume that their audience will be scrutinizing their every word, thought and non-verbal gesture. This is far from true. The audience is very likely to be distracted most of the time you are speaking by various sources: (online chatting in classes, day dreaming, etc.) What the audience will remember is the way you delivered your speech and the key points, not so much about the details.

4. Note that the more comfortable you act in front of the audience, the more comfortable the audience will be with you.

  • Most communication is non-verbal: through voice, posture, and indicators of confidence. Hence, journalists tell reporters to “fake it until you make it,” to act as if one is already super confident. Don’t allow negative self-talk or nervous thoughts to interfere during the talk. That way, even if you are nervous the audience will never know—and hence, you will build more confidence and be known as an excellent public speaker.

    Adapted from Yale Graduate School of Arts and Science, Public speaking for Teachers

Related Resources

Speaking with Confidence summarizes an interactive workshop at McMaster University presented by Lil Blume where participants explored and practiced public speaking.

Barbara Gross Davis’ Tools for Teaching - Chapter on The first Day of Class has many helpful suggestions for being prepared and thus reducing the level of anxiety over lecturing.

Resources for TeacherLeadership: Making Presentations provides resources and tips on managing presentation anxiety.