How to Annihilate Your Public Speaking Anxiety

What’s the deal?

When you’re talking to students, you’re comfortable. You’re quick on your feet. You’re fun, even funny.


When you’re asked to preach in “big church,” to adults, you clam up. You step up to the pulpit and your heart starts to pound in your chest.

Your thinking gets cloudy. Your palms get sweaty. Your muscles get tense. Your mouth forgets how to work.

What follows is a series of um’s and uh’s.

What’s the deal?

It’s not that you’re afraid to speak in public.
You speak to your students every week. That’s not the problem. The problem is anxiety.

2 Kinds of Anxiety…

Specifically, there are two kinds of anxiety that you might be experiencing: situation-based anxiety or audience-based anxiety.

According to Stanford University lecturer Matt Abrahams, in situation-based anxiety, the context in which you are speaking causes your anxiety. The agitating factor could be room location or audience size. Either way, your view of the situation or context in which the communication occurs causes the anxiety.

In audience-based anxiety, the people you’re speaking to is what activates your anxiety. The status, expertise, or attitude of the audience prompts your anxious response.

Abrahams explains, “By determining which one of these types is the source of most of your anxiety, you can begin to develop a targeted, proactive approach to addressing your fear” (Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, p. 14).

4 Ways to Annihilate Your Public Speaking Anxiety

1. Write Your Fears

We experience fear and anxiety when we fixate on negative thoughts. In most cases, the fear we feel is disproportionate to the fear we face. It’s irrational. That doesn’t exactly help when adrenaline is flowing through your veins, but it can help you limit the amount of adrenaline that is flowing.

Abrahams suggests we ask, “What is absolutely the worst thing that could happen?” (p. 38). But don’t stop there. Research suggests that the act of writing down your fears and concerns can potentially reduce a wide range of performance anxieties.

Somehow, getting your fears out into the open is a great way to deal with them. When those negative thoughts are exposed to the light, the truth of what’s really at stake has a way of taking care of them.

2. Visualize Your Success

According to Abrahams, “You can improve your skills, reduce your anxiety, and increase your confidence just by envisioning yourself speaking” (p. 23).

When you visualize your success, you create a mental picture of success before it happens.

Your brain is incredibly powerful. You can create mental images of failure or success. When you spend your time visualizing success, you are more likely to experience it.

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3. Practice Your Message

Practice is important. You cannot deliver a message the way you intend if you haven’t practiced it. Abrahams counsels, “Making time to practice is critical to feeling more confident and less nervous” (p. 69).

When you’re practicing, don’t try to memorize a specific way of saying the words. Instead, focus on the structure of your big ideas.

You might even consider writing your main points in the form of audience questions to which you offer responses. Questions help to frame the situation in the mode of a conversation rather than a presentation. That shift alone will help to reduce your anxiety. After all, you’re not nervous when you’re talking at the kitchen table, are you?

4. Engage Your Audience

The fastest way to break the ice and calm your nerves is to establish rapport with the people who are there. This is what Abrahams calls “Audience-Connecting Techniques” (p. 50).

Audience-Connecting Techniques can be surfaced by flipping the question from “What do I want to say?” to “What does my audience need to hear?”

Additionally, there are a few tricks to engage the crowd from the start and get them on your side. You could ask for a show of hands in response to a question. You could ask them to imagine a situation or remember an event. You could tell them to talk to the person next to them. The possibilities are endless.

When you’re focused on engaging your audience, your attention is directed away from yourself. That will help reduce your anxiety and help you get settled into your message.

Your Move

The next time your pastor asks you to preach in the adult worship service, you’ll still feel that same uneasy feeling. That’s okay. It means you think it’s an important opportunity and your body is reacting by producing adrenaline.

How you prepare will help you a lot.

Begin by writing your fears. Then, start to visualize your success. After you’ve written your message, practice it. And when you step up on the stage, be sure to engage your audience.

If you get hit with a few last-minute jitters, here’s a helpful acronym you can keep in your Bible to help you get through it:
Converse with the audience
Affirm your abilities
Look confident
Make your moves

Don’t let public speaking anxiety keep you from preaching the message that God has called you to preach. Adults need to hear it just as much as your students do.

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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