Dear Kirsten,

I have had a long-standing problem with public speaking. I've managed to avoid it for most of my career but recently I have been given a great opportunity that will include some public speaking.

I've accepted the role and am now terrified that I won’t be able to do and that I will make a fool of myself in front of everyone.

The times I've tried to do it, my heart starts pounding way before I have to get up and speak, it’s so bad that even having to speak my name in front of people in large groups can trigger a big level of anxiety.

Once my heart goes then my hands get really shaky, then once I start speaking my voice starts to be shaky and I can hear it, this makes everything worse, I start going red and in previous times I've almost wanted to run out of the room.

I really want to the opportunity but I'm now so worried I can't do it and I will look really silly in front of everyone.

Name supplied

Kirsten replies:

I can really relate to what you have written, so many of us share feelings of anxiety when public speaking, ranging from butterflies to full-on panic responses.

You have described your past response as being a strong fear response - with all the physical hallmarks of anxiety. It’s really hard in the moment to get an understanding of the thoughts that might be driving your fears and this is probably where I would start.

Your body is responding to a perceived threat and it’s possible that you have some hidden thoughts and worries about your public speaking role.

Try to spend some time beforehand asking yourself what you are frightened of, which bit of public speaking makes you anxious?

For some people it’s the pressure to do a god job, others find the eye contact difficult to manage and for some it’s the responsibility of being in charge of delivering content.

Once you have started to connect with the fears that are creating the body responses (heart pounding) try to work with them.

I would encourage you to have a look at some CBT techniques like thinking traps and to see if any of your worries fall into those categories.

I wonder if we could flip how you are viewing the experience. There’s something very positive about taking a first step into an area you are worried about, it shows great courage and gives you a chance to create a different outcome.

If you are telling yourself that it will go the way your other presentations have gone, you will be communicating to your brain that the upcoming presentation will be a failure, almost like a self fulfilling prophecy.

I would really like you to try some different visualisations, try imagining the presentation going well, focus on a positive audience reaction, connect with how you feel as you are confidently delivering your information.

In doing exercises like this, we can help the brain move away from its programmed fear response.

There are also some practical tips and tricks that you can try:

Prepare well

Getting to grips with your material ahead of time can help you feel well informed and confident, make sure you are familiar with any technical equipment used and have all the materials ready.

Have an outline of what you want to get across and practice speaking through your presentation a number of times before the arranged date.

Make your material the focus

It can be tempting to focus on your voice or how engaged people are, for this next presentation, try focusing on the material, on the content you are delivering, connect with why it’s important to get it across to people, what difference will it make to them. People might notice you are nervous, that’s ok, many of us get nervous presenting, their attention and focus will be drawn towards the new material you are delivering and your anxiety will only be a background awareness for them.

Body language

Body language is a great way of communicating confidence even if you don't feel it, use your hands to gesture or to enhance what you are saying, take a confident stance, be as relaxed as you can in your body, the audience will take cues from your body language that can override how nervous you might sound.


If you have time, or even to get better at public speaking in the future, toastmasters ( have local public speaking groups whose goal is to help you overcome nerves and develop a confident public speaking style.

It can feel like the whole world notices when we are anxious, actually, our anxiety is usually visible to very few people. Good luck with your presentation

All Best Wishes


Kirsten Antoncich

UKCP Clinical Psychotherapist