Overcoming the Fear of Giving Presentations


“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

– Jerry Seinfeld

There was a time when I couldn’t have agreed more. But I realised that my fear of giving presentations was really stopping me from fulfilling my potential and I had to do something about it.

I had been recommended for promotion in my job in IT. I had a great track record, enviable feedback from peers and customers and had attained all the technical achievements that were required to move up the ladder and gain a substantial increase in pay and recognition. So what was stopping me? In order to gain that promotion, I would have to present my case before a board of executives, but the very idea made me feel physically ill.

I had struggled for years with panic and anxiety, and as soon as I pictured myself in front of those people, I could feel all the old symptoms rising up: the sweaty palms, the racing heart, the dry mouth. Over the years I had found ways to cope with most of the anxieties that affected me on a day-to-day basis, but public speaking was still unthinkable to me. It was something I was going to have to face if I wanted to get on in my career, but I knew that I was going to need help to get over this major hurdle.

I decided to do some online research. It was some comfort to learn that all of those feelings I had at the thought of public speaking were actually quite natural and common to many people. I came across several training companies claiming they could help people conquer their fears and present confidently within just one day. Frankly, though, I didn’t believe my fear would go away quite so easily. It was simply too deep seated and would require some technique that would delve just as deeply if it was to be undone. And then I found something that resonated with me. I read about the benefits of using neurolinguistic programming (NLP) techniques and it gave me genuine hope. I enrolled in a course.

My training gave me real insight into the way my anxieties had escalated out of control. There was no reason for me to be anything but confident when I knew my subject so well, but the fear which gripped me was putting that confidence beyond my reach. The NLP practitioner had me complete an exercise in which we separated all of the information I was receiving from my senses when I thought of myself having to give a presentation:

  • The sight of a room full of eyes all trained on me.
  • The sound of my heartbeat as the old panic rose.
  • The feel of the sweat on my palms or the dryness of my mouth.

She brought me to the realisation that what was actually happening was that my mind was replaying and amplifying my original panic attack every time I was faced with my phobia. In other words, this was purely an internal representation of the situation which I was creating and I was reacting to that representation rather than the situation itself.

She then established my ‘anchor’ – something which triggers positive emotions rather than an anxiety response – and taught me how to visualise myself hanging onto that anchor while I went through the motions of a simulated presentation. I was amazed how quickly I was able to dissociate myself from my fear using these simple techniques, and by the end of the session, my emotional response to the same stimuli was completely gone. NLP helped me to identify the negative emotions which were taking over and to get them in check. I was able to bring my communication skills to the fore and left with a better understanding of myself. Given my line of work, I chose to see the anxieties I’d locked away as a computer virus, and the techniques I’d learned as the anti-virus program which would remove it.

I decided to put my new skills to use immediately. I booked my appointment with the promotions board and was able present a compelling case. Of course there were some nerves. I had accepted that it would be unnatural not to feel a little adrenalin pumping, but my training had taught me how to deal with this and even turn it to my advantage. I was able to deliver my presentation competently and field all of the difficult questions put to me. The knowledge that just a short time ago, this would have seemed an impossible task propelled me through the session, and a few weeks later I had my reward when my promotion was approved.

Have you had to face a fear of giving presentations? Share your experience and advice.

Photo by Sara V.

12 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of Giving Presentations”

  1. Hi Jan,

    Congrats! So many years since I did presentations. As a child I spoke to large ballrooms for the Optimist Club competitions. I kicked butt, and even though I got nervous, if I could do it in the 5th grade, and speak to hundreds, I can do it at 38 ;)

    Right now though with me traveling the world, this is not likely to happen for a bit. But good to know you have conquered your fears using NLP and attacking your worries.

    Each worry is just a projection of an agitated mind. See it for it it is, and you feel better instantly about speaking in public.



  2. “….Each worry is just a projection of an agitated mind…..” I love that analogy! I will remember that one. Thank you.

    A truly excellent article by the author too. Thank you.

  3. Jan,

    Great lessons for improving your public speaking skills. This is something that I am still working to improve.

    Day-in-day out, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Joining a toastmaster group or putting yourself in situations where you are forced to talk in public are great ways to reinforce and build your skills.

    Thanks for sharing your lessons.


  4. I used to fear so it too but somehow I managed to overcome with the following, and that is to face my fears and continuously ‘volunteer’ myself. I know this may sound really weird, as most of us would shun away from just the idea of presenting. But it worked for me. The more I put myself up, the less fearful I become of it.
    And yes, it gets better each time. :)

  5. mahavir nautiyal

    I go to the dais with a determination to overwhelm the audience and not let them overwhelm me. It often works.

  6. I attracted this article! Just recently overcame my fear of presenting because after two years I felt I should be somewhat comfortable with the idea. Like you, I would visualize the next weeks presentation, and anxiety would start. It really is painful to experience this for days before time to give the presentation. I did not know that I was experiencing my initial anxiety over giving presentations. Good knowledge. I simply told myself I was being too critical of myself, such as making the crowd cheer over information i was not sure was complete or even comprehensible for that matter. So, I began focusing on giving something to my audience, even if it was just one fact, or technique that would help them from the topic I was presenting. There is a lot of power in giving. Those who ignore me, well they miss out. Attitude is everything in these types of scenarios. Have an attitude that you are giving something important, and the rest will work itself out.

  7. Great post! It is amazing how we are afraid of expressing ourselves. Giving presentations/public speaking is really a platform to be ourselves and express our minds, this is one opportunity where everyone in the audience is paying attention to you and what you have to say. To me this is a great opportunity to take charge and impact or try to win all those in the audience to my own thinking or view point.

    But obviously we tend to freeze on stage and let ourselves down thereby passing on the opportunity of growth. The best way of conquering your demons is to face them on, so if giving presentations gives your sleepless nights, be even more determined to face it and conquer it. Prepare well for it and believe me you will manage.

  8. I grew up with a stutter and I know the feeling. Speeches? Yea right. I would find the most innovative ways to skipping them. I even used to think that I would never be able to have a girlfriend because I couldn’t talk.

    It’s all about realizing that no one really cares. People are so insecure about themselves that they don’t care if you mess up.

    Ps: I did overcome my stutter.

  9. Great article…I guess it’s a matter of de-sensitising yourself.,I’ve never had a problem with public speaking, but I did dread going into a crowded room, even a classroom at college so would get there 10 minutes before everyone else. Was cured of that by volunteering at The Globe Theatre as a steward…not a lot you can when faced with 50 people brandishing tickets!!! NLP sounds really effective…well done and Keep Speaking!!

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