How to Overcome Nervousness in Public Speaking


i have fear & nervousness in speaking in groups. its my ego problem i think. i have basically a social relationship problem too. i dont get along with people sometimes. i hesitate meeting with people. it may be my relatives or any one. i want to get rid of this weakness in me. i am 22 now and this feeling has been in me i think since the past six years. i m not really very very frustrated. can you help me?

—subir, india


Dear Subir,

It is said that public speaking, even in small groups, is the most commonly held fear. Most of us have at one time or another felt nervous in social situations or in meetings when asked to contribute. We can find ourselves “tongue-tied” and overly self-conscious. If persistent, such fears can gradually degrade our relationships, job performance and self esteem.

Swami Kriyananda recounts in his autobiography how he dealt with his early brushes with stage fright when first asked to speak publicly. He inwardly accepted the likelihood that his audience would think him foolish, unqualified or immature. He didn’t resist the possibility that these opinions were, in fact, true and accepted them with equinimity. “What does it matter?” he thought. “I will do my best.” He felt in his heart that he had something of value and wanted to share it with others.

Social fear is often irrational and can come upon us without reason. Most of us know that feeling but what can we do about it? The fact that you recognize your problem and want to find a solution is a first good step. This will help you summon the strength needed to face your fears. You must be courageous and not allow yourself to become so paralyzed that you cannot constructively move toward a solution. An overly shy person will tend to avoid all group situations. Try not to make this mistake because it is ultimately self defeating as it only strengthens one’s negative tendencies. You must think of yourself as an athelete-in-training, willfully putting yourself in social situations in which you may feel uncomfortable because you will be called upon to interact with others. Take small steps and gradually you will gain confidence to take larger ones. Remember that the goal of this is not necessarily for you to enjoy these situations but to gain confidence enough to interact appropriately.

Sooner or later we all are called upon to speak publicly. This is a skill that can be learned with practice. You might consider joining a group or club that specializes in helping people learn to speak. There are many such options available. It takes practice to learn to speak extemporaniously so you must build up that level. In the meantime, learn to be prepared. Think about situations ahead of time and memorize a few simple things to say. You will have noticed that much social conversation is about standard, even trivial, things. When in a social group, take the initiative to use what you have rehearsed and say it. By taking the initiative, you will avoid finding yourself reacting to something for which you may not be prepared and be overcome. Start by using a friend as someone with whom you can talk. Keep good posture so that you project through your body an aura of confidence. Keep your chest forward and your spine straight. Breathe deeply. Look into the faces of other people when speaking and listening and be approachable. Smile.

A great way to be a good conversationalist is to learn how to ask questions of others. Be prepared with a few questions for those you meet. Even simple things like, “How are you?” or “What have you been doing lately?” can be effective. “Where do you stay? Is the weather nice there?” “I’ve never been there but everyone says it’s lovely. What do you think?” These will get the other person talking. Even though you may not, most people do like to speak about themselves and if you show interest, people will appreciate you. They too may be shy. Listen closely to what the other person says so you can ask followup questions. Let the other person speak but you must show interest by looking at that person, occasionally making eye contact, smiling and nodding your head from time to time. You are not being insincere when you do this. It is simply being polite. Showing interest in other people will not only win friends but it will help you reduce your tendency to think about your own fears.

Feelings of social inadequacy will diminish as you get older because with experience comes self-confidence. From a spiritual perspective, you are overly concerned about yourself. Problems of inferiority and superiority have the same root in ego consciousness and too much self involvement. The spiritual answer is to forget the little ego-self by thinking more of the welfare of others, service, focusing on whatever tasks you have before you, exerting constructive, outwardly directed energy and being more impersonal in your outlook. If you are a spiritual devotee, you will direct more attention to God and ask for His help. Pray that God’s power flow through you, guide you and give you strenght to act according to His Will. Keep your focus on serving as God’s channel and your fear and nervousness will begin to melt away.