Anxious About Public Speaking?

by Ann Jenrette-Thomas, Esq.

Every lawyer suffers from anxiety at some point or another. Anxiety is just a normal part of life. It can actually be a useful emotion to the extent it helps us cope with stressful situations. Other times, anxiety can be out of control and interfere with our ability to function normally in stressful situations even if the stress is just manufactured in our minds.

One of the most common anxiety producing experiences is when it comes to public speaking.  This may include your initial oral arguments in court, conducting a presentation or pitch before a prospective client, or giving a speech at a local trade association.

Do you have a fear of speaking in public? If so, you may have performance anxiety.  Common performance anxiety symptoms include:

  • Worrying about looking foolish in front of other people and being laughed at.
  • Fretting that people can see how nervous you are.
  • Feeling immediate and intense fear upon learning you need to speak in public.

  • Attempting to get out of public speaking.

Performance anxiety is the result of fear-based thoughts. The fear comes from imagined dangers such as feeling like you are not smart enough or good enough to avoid ridicule. The way to overcome your performance anxiety is to change your way of thinking.

There are four steps involved in overcoming performance anxiety:

Step 1: Self Assessment

  • Take the time to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a speaker.
  • Identify the problem thoughts that hold you back and create anxiety.

Step 2: Exposure and Preparation

  • Find opportunities to speak in public on a limited basis where your anxiety won’t kick in (e.g, creating an informative webinar where you will not be visible; introducing a speaker at the CLE, etc.).
  • Practice your speech. Tape it and watch yourself. Practice until you have it down pat. Always be totally prepared before giving your speech so you feel confident.

  • Learn relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing, visualizing a calm place, etc.) and practice them right before your performance.

Step 3: The Speech

  • Visualize the audience as friends and family that wish you well and are supportive.
  • Don’t think of yourself. Think of the audience.

  • Try to stay calm and enjoy yourself.

Step 4: Immediately After the Speech

  • Don’t criticize yourself no matter what happens (you can do a thorough evaluation at a later time).
  • Congratulate yourself for doing your best.

  • Reward yourself for making progress

Follow these steps to help you overcome your public speaking anxiety.  Train yourself to change your thoughts and instead of worrying about what people will think, imagine they are thinking good things about you. As you change your thinking, you will see your performance anxiety start to slip away.

Have you overcome public speaking anxiety?  Help another lawyer out — share your tips on what you did in the comments below.

If you need help developing a commanding speaking presence, contact us at  We can help you finesse your speaking and presentation skills.


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