How to overcome nerves during public speaking

The nature of nerves

Several years ago, a survey was conducted to identify the top 10 public fears. Public speaking came up as number 1! Above spiders and other creepy crawlies, deep water, heights, illness, financial worries, open spaces, flying – death came in about number 9 on the list. The key point here is that apparently the scariest thing we can do in our lives is stand in front of people and speak.

Why the fear factor?

Public speaking is often considered an umbrella fear meaning many different fears bundled together under one heading. We tend to focus on the many things that could go wrong when presenting.

For example my mouth will dry up, my mind will go blank, I’ll fall over, I’ll burst into tears, they’ll laugh at me, I’ll swear and embarrass myself and my boss, who’s in the audience.

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A wise man once said: ‘the human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born, and doesn’t stop until you stand up to speak in public’.

Basically we imagine the worst case scenario and carry that with us into the presentation.

The physical effects

As soon as you perceive a threat (you have to deliver a presentation to 20 people) and become nervous, your primitive survival instinct, fight or flight, ignites. Your brain releases 2 stimulants into your bloodstream, adrenaline and cortisol, which bring about immediate physical changes.

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  • Our heart rate increases; the heart is now working overtime, pumping blood and oxygen to the parts of us which need it most to keep us alive. Ultimately it just wants us to be physically strong enough to deal with the threat – to either fight back, or to run away (take flight).
  • Your body temperature rises. Who doesn’t get sweaty when they are nervous?
  • A rush of blood to the head? This explains why a lot of people’s faces turn red when they’re either angry or embarrassed.
  • Butterflies in your stomach? The blood normally reserved for this area has been sent to other parts of your body, so you feel nauseous.

The main message here is that the fight or flight instinct gives us a colossal amount of nervous energy. Let’s use it!

With practice, this energy becomes your ally when presenting, and can have a significant impact on performance. If you turn it in on yourself, it becomes anxiety which eats away at you. However, if you send it outwards towards the audience, it manifests itself as energy, enthusiasm and vitality. This works incredibly well.

So what’s the big secret?

How do we become more confident presenters? Is it acupuncture, aromatherapy, breathing exercises, hypnotherapy? Perhaps, but for me, the answer is much simpler: practice. Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. The more you repeat any skill or behaviour, the more it becomes embedded. Whenever opportunities to present arise, grab them with both hands. Not an easy answer but the most effective one!


What have we learnt? If we get nervous before a presentation, that’s good! It means we’re human and not perfect presenting robots. With practice, we can harness the nervous energy and use it to be an enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

Mark Twain once said this: “There are 2 kinds of public speaker. Those that are nervous, and those that are liars.”

6 Proven Steps to Implement Organisational Change

The challenge of change

Anything new or different in our lives means change. Isn’t that exciting? Apparently not! When asked about change, most people will answer that they do not like it. Why? Usually because their comfort zone is in jeopardy. That wonderful protective bubble that we lovingly construct around ourselves. In the comfort zone, life is good. In a routine, we go through the motions each day, and we like it. The comfort zone is warm and fluffy and protects us from the horrors of the outside world. Until the evil change manager makes an appearance, destroying my comfort zone and dragging me kicking and screaming by the ankles to unfamiliar territory.

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Managing Change







As change managers, what can we do to overcome this? Let’s give your change project a good chance of SUCCESS:

Shared vision

Change is often told, but not sold. This is why people don’t buy it. Create a shared vision for your team. A vision of what life will look like once they have got on board with the change and successfully implemented it. Paint a picture of their future that is attractive, compelling and inspiring. You want them to achieve it, but can you make them want it too? Can you make them willingly pursue the goal? Think of Martin Luther King’s famous speech in 1963: “I have a dream…”

Understanding of the organisation

The more you know about your organisation, the better. It brings context into the picture, along with imminent trends, threats and a sense of short to long term goals.

Do your homework before announcing any changes. This leads nicely into:

Cultural alignment

Make sure your change implementation effort is aligned to your organisations’ culture. Is it open to change, or resistant? Has there been a lot of change recently, making people more receptive? Or, does the opposite apply? Maybe have things been stable for a while and people have forgotten what change feels like? This might mean that your announcement of change may not be well received.


Simply put, a vital factor in successfully implementing change. Next, how will it be communicated? Do the stakeholders prefer face to face meetings, conference calls, mass email, or a poster on the wall next to the coffee machine? Or all of the above? Who needs to be consulted before a decision is made, or informed afterwards? A stakeholder communication plan works extremely well here.

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Communication: one key to change management

Experienced help where necessary

Sometimes we can’t do it all on our own. A change project usually requires a project team to get the work done. Use the human resources at your disposal.

Strong leadership

A good leader leads by example and is a strong and effective role model. Good leaders have willing followers. They understand why they should follow and are happy to do so. They’re engaged. If you believe in and are excited by the change, they will be. If you’re not, it could be an uphill battle to harness team productivity and performance.

Stakeholder buy-in

How do we get the stakeholders to buy-in to change? Consider the vital question: What’s in it for them? Sell them the benefits of the change from their perspective: “what this means for you is…”

Alternatively, you could try Situation, Implications, Solution (SIS) – another form of leverage. Tell them about the current situation (changes are coming), describe the implications of change failure (bad publicity, lose customers, disaster) and propose the solution (let’s get together and implement the change!).


Most people don’t like change. So, if we’re going to implement one, we need to;

  • create a shared vision
  • understand our organisation and its culture
  • communicate effectively
  • get help if required
  • lead effectively
  • obtain stakeholder buy-in.

Good luck!