Public Speaking and Presentations

Does the very thought of going to work feel you with dread because you have to give a presentation or a talk?

Does the thought of going to college make you feel nausious?

You are not alone - Lawrence Olivier (famous actor) once spent the entire night on stage with his back to the audience due to stage fright!

It has been estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking or making a presentation.

In fact, surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. If untreated, public speaking anxiety (as other mental health problems) can cause serious detrimental effects on people in general, and undergraduate students in particular, as it may prevent them from accomplishing their educational goals, or it could mean losing that promotion in work.

Fear of public speaking is incredibly common as, nearly anyone can suffer from this type of phobia called Glossophobia.

What is Presentation or Public Speaking Anxiety?

Presentation anxiety is a response to fear and it manifests itself in a number of ways.

What are the Symptoms?

Physically for example: in blushing, shaking, stuttering, the feeling of nausea, sweating, being tongue tied.

Mentally in being muddled, having a 'blank' moment feelings of not making sense, feeling scared, losing the thread.

These feelings are so unpleasant that we actually want to avoid presentations altogether.

What Are the Causes?

An overwhelming sense of others watching and judging and anxiety that "they think I'm stupid". It is easy for these feelings to spiral into negative thoughts such as "I'm a total failure". Suddenly our sense of self esteem gets confused with our academic performance.


Sometimes we can pressure ourselves by having unreasonably high expectations of what we should achieve, particularly if this is the first time we have done a presentation.


Avoidance makes things worse because we never have the opportunity to test our assumptions. Going through the experience and seeing that we can survive intact will help us build up our confidence for next time.

Past Experience:

Particularly if the experience was a negative one, can influence how we might think and feel about a similar experience even though it is in a new context. Perhaps we were teased for blushing or stuttering at school, or remember times when our ideas were put down or rejected by the family or in public. Being in a situation where others are watching, judging or criticising can trigger feelings of anxiety or rejection associated with those past experiences. As a result we may be over critical of our performance, focusing on everything that went wrong, until we feel we are "no good at it". This sets up a vicious spiral: next time our anxiety levels are even higher and we are less likely to do well. We are in effect tripping up the fight/fight/freeze area of the brain, as with any phobic response will do.

Lack of Confidence:

Lack of self confidence can affect thinking, feelings, behaviour and body language. Labelling oneself unconfident means failing to appreciate the things we do do well. Confidence comes from doing things and having a go, learning from our mistakes. Repetition helps reinforce positive behaviour. The more you present the better you will become at it.