Got Stage Fright? Try These 14 Effective Tricks To Calm Your Nerves

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

Many people get stage fright when they have to present to an audience—even experienced business leaders. While some executives are nervous about being judged or making a mistake, others may be battling impostor syndrome. No matter the reason, if you’re a senior leader with a fear of public speaking, it can be a significant challenge to overcome.

Fortunately, there are some effective steps leaders can take to get more comfortable with public speaking. Below, 14 Forbes Coaches Council members share their best tips for gathering your composure and calming your nerves before addressing an audience.

Featured members share tricks to help leaders calm their nerves when speaking publicly.
Forbes Coaches Council members share tricks to help leaders calm their nerves when speaking to an audience.

1. Preview The Audience

When public speaking, face your audience ahead of time. A significant part of the overwhelming feeling is the newness of the room and the people. Remove the surprise and release the emotional response by looking at them in advance. You will be able to see and feel the room, which will bring more familiarity and comfort when you finally take the stage. – Cheryl Breukelman, Epiphany Coaches Inc.

2. Remember To Be Confident

Instead of a trick, I would suggest a different approach that has worked with leaders in making sure they prepare enough that they feel confident before presenting to their audience. When this topic appears in coaching sessions with leaders, we discuss confidence in their knowledge and abilities—or else they wouldn’t be presenting. Challenge your mindset on how you can prepare properly for success. – Bryan Powell, Executive Coaching Space

3. Focus On One Person

A good method or trick for addressing stage fright–in addition to breathing exercises or putting a fidget toy or paper clip in your pocket—is to start the presentation by focusing exclusively on one person in the audience. It could be the host who invited you or someone who reminds you of a family member, but the trick is to develop tunnel vision and build from there. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

On What You Can Give

Shift the focus away from what you think might go wrong, and instead focus on what you can give to the audience. Instead of thinking, “What if they don’t like my speech, or my voice?” ask yourself, “What can I share with my audience? What can they get from me that they cannot get from anyone else?” Focus on giving and sharing and connect with your audience from your heart. – Sonia Maslovskaya, SoniaMPower

5. Look At Yourself As An Equal

Audience intimidation occurs when you believe that people in the audience have qualities and characteristics that you don’t have. The most effective way to change that is by looking for the same qualities and characteristics within yourself. So spend a moment looking at how you are equal to your audience members, and you’ll calm the anxiety and nerves. – Giorgio Genaus, Genius Institute

6. Make It Fun And Remember Why You’re There

Make it fun and remind yourself why you’re there! The morning of a speaking event, I blast a song that gets me fired up in my hotel room (“Eye of the Tiger” is my personal go-to). Then, as I am being introduced to give my talk, I say this to myself: “No one is here for me—I am here for them.” Taking that time to remind yourself of this ensures your posture is one of selflessness and service. – Dave Resseguie, The Resseguie Group

7. Keep Your Attention On The Audience

Instead of paying hyper-attention to how you’re feeling, put your attention on the good people who are interested in what you’re about to say. What did they come to hear? What will they learn? How will you connect with them? What will they take away with them? How will they apply it? Keeping attention on the participants allows the speaker to divert self-focus. – Evan Roth, Roth Consultancy International, LLC.

8. Practice Deep Breathing

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to calm your nerves before stepping up to the microphone is to slow your breath and anchor into your body. Place both feet firmly on the ground and sink into your body. Take five low, slow deep breaths and send the nervous energy from your throat and chest to your navel. Within a few seconds, you should feel much calmer and more relaxed. – Michela Quilici, MQ Consulting and Business Training, Inc.

9. Agree To Do More Speaking Engagements

The more you do speaking engagements, the less uncomfortable you’ll be. Find low-risk opportunities to get additional practice. There are many programs, such as Toastmasters and Dale Carnegie, that provide practice to break out of your comfort zone and get experience in a safe setting. – Krista Neher, Boot Camp Digital

10. Visit The Room First

Visit the location and step on the stage. Feel the room with its empty seats. Mentally walk through your talk. See yourself giving a confident, compelling talk. Bring your attention to your breath and release the fear on the exhalations. Ten minutes before walking on stage, recall your experience from earlier in the day. Constrict your body, hold for three to five seconds, release, notice your breath, smile and walk on stage! – Angela Cusack, Igniting Success

11. Rehearse In Front Of A Mirror

Public speaking is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is an important skill to master in the corporate world. To overcome stage fright, be sure to rehearse in front of a mirror until you are comfortable. When onstage, look over the top of heads (envision the mirror) to calm your nerves. Also, planting familiar and comforting faces in the audience will do wonders too. – Tami Chapek, WeInspireWe

12. Prepare In Advance And At The Location

I like the metaphor of “feeling the smell of the place” in advance. Be there before everyone arrives and take a walk to the podium. Look at the seats where the audience will be sitting. Stand in a confident pose and fill your lungs with air. The principle of inhaling and exhaling every four seconds can be very helpful. Rehearsing the content is key to confidence. Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance. – Nagesh Sharma, Flowsphere India Private Limited

13. Face Your Fears

The trick I use is to face my fear. Why do I feel nervous? Is it because I’m afraid that they won’t like me or my speech, or that I’ll be judged? Then I live this scenario and feel my emotions. Afterward, I remind myself why this speech is important, feel grateful for the potentially negative but educational experience and create a positive scenario where the public will respond the way I want. – Aina Alive, Bee Agile

14. Acknowledge The Group You’ll Speak To

With smaller groups, meet everyone with a handshake or fist bump before the presentation starts. Recognizing that a group is actually just a collection of individuals will reduce the stress and anxiety of facing the “crowd.” Practice 4-second, square breathing in the minutes before you begin, as slowing your respiration and heart rate helps to calm anxiety. And remember—practice, practice and practice again. – Ron N Hurst, Developing Leaders