How to take the terror out of a talk

How to take the terror out of a talk

June 24, 2020

This has been rewritten from an extempore speech Anna delivered at Pania Toastmasters Club in Napier, recently for the Better Speaker Series on how to take the terror out of your talk.   Hence, her audience is Toastmasters and comments are designed specifically for the participants.  She also brought another coach and wedding celebrant, Laurel Francis, from Central Hawke’s Bay, to increase the audience participation to discuss her acronyms for fear.

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?  Your playing small does not serve the world.’  Marianne Williamson

We are more afraid of the light, when we step into spotlight.  We have nowhere to hide and become very fearful. I have battled with nerves and shying away from the light and am gradually learning to rethink what I tell myself.

Today I am going to cover two aspects on how to take the terror out of a talk and help you reposition your thinking around nerves and fear.

  • The first is what is fear and how to make your nerves work for you, not against you.
  • The second is mind work, specifically affirmations and visualisations.

We have all felt fearful and our nerves have seized, increased heart rate, butterflies in the tummy, shakes, we have felt - panicked, sick, paralysed by fear, hate to be looked at by everyone.  We think everyone is going to laugh at us, we think they will judge us, or worse, they could reject us!  If that happens we could totally dry up and won’t know what to say.  Sound familiar?

Everyone has nerves, or stage fright, however, it is valuable if used properly.  The key is learning to control it and make them work for you.

Flight or Fight
When you react to a fearful situation, such as public speaking, it’s the old flight or fight syndrome, the body responds by increasing the flow of adrenalin.  Adrenalin causes the heart to beat faster.  Extra blood and oxygen rush to the muscles and the brain.  This ‘rush’ is natural and provides extra energy that can enable us to think and respond quickly.

So, it’s all related to how we perceive the situation.

Do we say ‘oh thank you nerves, I am ready to give a speech and I am well prepared’, or do we let them wreak havoc with our mind and become panic stricken?

We all have techniques that use to take the terror out of delivery and allow us to cope with nerves.  What are some of tools you use?

Laurel Francis, coach and wedding celebrant sees fear both these ways:



Laurel also says:

  • Nerves are the mind and body’s way of saying you could be in danger. She suggested I say ‘thank you for caring’.
  • Nerves mean you care.
  •  A little bit of adrenalin gives you power. Fearful or empowered?  Use it however you see fit.
  • You can use it to destroy or enhance, as an enabler or as a disabler.
  • For public speaking, we are not jumping off a cliff. There are no fears of safety, no physical danger, but we still allow fear to creep in.

It’s all about the mind! The second aspect is mind work.  Affirmations are very empowering.  I listen to affirmations from Louise Hay, Jon Kabat-Zinn on YouTube and they really help.

Here are some from Maggie Eyre’s book, Speak Easy. She was Helen Clark’s presentation coach.  The power of these is they are in the present tense and they trick the mind into believing they are true.

I love to present
This is a lot of fun
The audience is really going to enjoy this
I am well prepared
I am confident
I am at my best in front of groups
  • keep them confidential
  • strong imagery, add colour, details, smells,
  • do for 90 seconds for each affirmation
  • say them like you REALLY MEAN it.

These phrases also encourage visualisation.  Imagine yourself confidently standing in front of the group.  Imagine as much detail as possible.  A great time to do it is before you go to bed.

To wrap up:

  • What does Fear stand for?
  • When you get nerves, what do you do? Remember to say ‘thank your mind and body for caring’ and change it to the positive
  • If you don’t have nerves you don’t care
  • The ideas work, but the important thing is to put them into practice.

‘I gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which I must stop and look fear in the face…I say to myself’ I’ve lived through this and can take on the next challenge that comes along.  We must attempt to do the things we think we cannot do.Eleanor Roosevelt


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