Speaking Anxiety by Gerrie Ferris Finger

 I make these plans months in advance — or my publicist the wonderful Patti Nunn does — to speak at conferences or festivals like the upcoming Decatur Book Festival in the suburb of Atlanta on August 30-31. The festival — the largest in the Southeast — is sponsored in part by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. I’ve lived and worked in Atlanta for over thirty years, twenty of which I spent as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. So I’m looking forward to giving a twenty minute speech, right? Well, I’ll be happy when I step off the podium, hoping that I have conquered the foremost of my fears.

Fear of speaking in public

Fear of what people think of me and my presentation

Fear of losing control

Fear of looking foolish

 Internet speech experts are good sources of advice, unless you’re a blithering case and then you  need a shrink. I’m not there yet.

For my next big presentation,  I’m going to take my cues from the Mayo Clinic:

Preparation is everything:

 I write my speeches and condense into bullet presentations. Nothing is more boring than reading a script. I’m not good at memorizing so I wing it between bullet points — knowing, of course, what my subject is — like introducing the characters in my latest novel, which is a series. Obviously, I know them very well. I know what my book is about, but sometimes my mind scrambles and I get carried away with “what comes next.”

I am as prepared as I can be, before anxiety overtakes me. So what do the experts recommend?

Exploit nervous energy:  

Nervous energy isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, research has shown that good stress helps the mind to focus more clearly. Also, getting the blood pumping sharpens the senses. Energy helps to engage audiences and exhibits passion. So if I turn my negative energy into positive energy, my audience will sit up and pay attention, unless I start pacing like a caged tiger.


If you can, find a speech coach, otherwise, a friend or family member can be your audience. Even practicing by video recording yourself and playing it back makes a difference. I made a critical error which contributed to my continuing anxiety. I did a presentation that was the first I’d given out loud. I was never comfortable during that time and that experience sticks in my mind.

Here’s the bottom line, everyone feels some anxiety before a speech.  Use these techniques to calm your nerves and don’t let speaker’s anxiety stop you from being an engaging speaker.

Cotton Mouth:

The more nervous I am the more water I need. The experts say drink water, take a few seconds to wet your whistle, but I hate to constantly sip from water bottles. Besides, I’m easily distracted from the nit I want to pick.

Be Calm:

The experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend exercise. They always do, no matter the day’s issues. They say even a quick stroll will help by alleviating anxiety in that it release endorphins that make you feel better.


At everyone you make eye contact with. Tell jokes if appropriate, look at happy photos. Social interaction calms anxiety and builds confidence. The day of the speech, I wake up nervous and get really anxiety-ridden right before it’s my turn to speak. So if  I can find a few happy photos of myself, those that have gotten my right side in profile, I’ll put them on the lectern next to my bullet point cards.

Breathing can cure self-awareness and self-consciousnesses:

Practice discreet, deep breathing while keeping a smile on your face, while looking relaxed.

Visualize yourself as happy:

Picture yourself walking up to the podium, smiling, calmly giving your speech, and then visualize the result you want afterward, such as people coming up to volunteer or congratulate you on your passionate speech. Hmmm.

Don’t put negative thoughts in your head:

Don’t dwell on past inelegant performances. Enough said.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare:
If you don’t prepare for your speech, you’ll end up stressed and anxious beforehand. Make sure you know what you’re going to say. Then, practice. Practice your first words more than any other part so that you can relax and focus on the audience instead of yourself. 

Have a good time. 

Conquer that need to be near an exit.

Bio: Retired journalist Gerrie Ferris lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband, Alan Finger, and their standard poodle, Bogey.


Thanks for having me as your guest. Love your blog.
Thanks for stopping by. Great advice about speaking--something most authors have to do ever so often.
Marja said…
Interesting and helpful points. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
Marja McGraw

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