8 Tips for Giving a Speech When You Have Social Anxiety

Business man hiding behind a presentation board

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Giving a speech can be anxiety-provoking. Below are eight tips for giving a speech when you have social anxiety.

If you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) these tips can help you to become a better public speaker while receiving traditional treatment such as systematic desensitization or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).


Getting daily exercise can help to manage anxiety, and a good run or cardio workout on the morning of the day of your speech will keep your endorphins running high and anxiety levels low.

Dress for Success

Choose an outfit that you are comfortable in, that makes you feel good, and that is appropriate for the occasion. If you wear something that you dislike or that doesn’t fit you well, you will be distracted from giving your speech.

Avoid Caffeine

Coffee, cola, and chocolate—remember that the three “Cs” can be high in caffeine and sugar, which you want to avoid on the day of a speech. Try replacing your coffee with a caffeine-free herbal tea and choose balanced meals containing protein to reduce hunger.

Practice and/or Imagery

Practicing giving your presentation or talking in front of friends or family can help take some of the anxiety away. When something is new it can be more overwhelming, but if you have already given this presentation before, it will decrease the anxiety. Also, imagery can be a great tool. You can imagine yourself giving the presentation and anticipate how you will feel. You can even practice relaxation techniques while you are doing it. This is all part of exposure which helps decrease anxiety.

Take a Breath

When you're anxious, you tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come from the chest, which can result in increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension, and other physical sensations. Before you get started, practice a deep breathing exercise (abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing) to stay in the moment and settle yourself down. Taking a break to breathe while speaking can also help lower your anxiety in the moment.

Meet Your Audience

Unfamiliar faces can seem threatening, particularly when you are in the spotlight. Try to talk with some audience members prior to your speech. This will help you to realize that they are just people like you, and not there to judge you. At the same time, if you are overcoming SAD, even speaking one-on-one with a stranger might be anxiety-provoking. Know your own limits and try to minimize stress before your performance.

Admit That You Are Nervous

Tell your audience that you are nervous. It can be a great ice-breaker and may help to make your audience more receptive.

Use a Conversational Tone

Keep your audience’s attention by speaking to them the way that you would talk with a friend over dinner. Use a light and conversational tone to make your audience feel at ease.

Maintain Good Eye Contact

When you have good eye contact with your audience, they will feel more connected to what you are saying. Here is a tip—have three or four people that you know position themselves throughout the room and rotate your gaze among them while you speak. If you are comfortable looking around at the audience, try to gauge whether they are keeping up with you or if you need to slow down or explain things in more detail.

Focus on Content

As you speak, allow yourself to become immersed in the topic and how it will help the members of your audience. Shifting the focus off of yourself and onto the content of your presentation helps to alleviate some of the self-consciousnesses that go along with SAD.

If all else fails and you do feel anxiety creeping up, realize that it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve ever been in the audience when a speaker was struggling with anxiety, you probably felt bad for the person but didn’t think any less of him or her. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Grice GL, Skinner JF. Mastering Public Speaking. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon; 2004.