Hi! I love teaching and this is my personal repository of useful materials for those who study English. Enjoy!!!
I collect everything here that helps me move forward in learning the language. If it proves useful to someone else, Welcome!
How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking in English
How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking in
It was 2 am and here I was, lying in bed awake,
thinking about the presentation I had to make at 9 am. I felt nervous. I wanted
to sleep but I couldn’t. My mind was obsessed with this presentation I had to
make – it was the first time I had the chance to present my research at an
international conference! What could I do in my hotel room, waiting for the
morning to come? Worry about the presentation? Agonize over the question
session? What would you have
done? Have you ever felt like this? It was useless to worry – instead, I
decided to rehearse. So, I closed my eyes and visualized the stage and the
audience. In the middle of the night I imagined myself as a great presenter,
capturing everyone’s attention, and I commented all my slides, one by one. After
that I felt more relaxed and I rested. The next morning I was anxious but calm.
I presented my research to the audience of experts and answered their questions
to the best of my knowledge.
Why are we nervous about speaking in public?
I am sure that you too have felt nervous before making a presentation in
English – we all do. So how do you handle your anxiety? Speaking in public is
not easy, and speaking in public in a foreign language makes it doubly
challenging. In this article we’re going to look at your fears and worries when
you have to deliver a presentation or speech in English, and show you how you
can overcome them.
When speaking to an audience in English, which of the following sound
1.You’re embarrassed by your
2.You’re worried you won’t find
the right words
3.You’re afraid people will not
understand your English
4.You’re afraid your
presentation will be boring because you speak slowly
5.You’re not sure you will
understand the audience’s questions
Let’s look at each one of these together and see how you can deal with
Fear # 1 – I’m embarrassed by my foreign accent
Many non-native speakers of English think that their level of English is
not good simply because they don’t have a native speaker accent. They are
mistaken! A foreign accent is fine as long as the message is understandable.
In fact a light foreign accent can even be
charming. Think of Juliette Binoche or Penelope Cruz acting in Hollywood
movies, or of American actors such as Kevin Costner or Dustin Hoffman starring
in Italian commercials:
What is important, however, is to pronounce some critical sounds properly.
Here are some common mistakes that
Italian learners of English make which get in the way of clear communication:
Forgetting to pronounce the ‘h’ or adding
unnecessary ones: for example ‘eat’ (mangiare in Italian) and ‘heat’ (calore), which mean very different things
Mispronouncing short and long vowels: ‘sheep’ (pecora) has a long ‘i’ sound
whereas ‘ship’ (nave) contains a short ‘i’.
When you are preparing your presentation, ask a friend or colleague to
listen to you and to pinpoint the words that are not pronounced well or not
Then rehearse those words and sentences until
they flow out naturally.
Remember that you can use online dictionaries to listen to the
pronunciation of words.
If you practice regularly, even the hardest words will become easy to say.
Fear # 2 – I’m worried I won’t find the right words
True enough: stress impedes our thinking and prevents us from finding the
However, this is also true for native speakers. To fight this problem, you
need to prepare yourself thoroughly.
Under stress we all have a hard time finding the precise words we would
like to say. Usually these words are not used very frequently, and so our
brains have to work hard to retrieve them.
Remember that your brain is a network of interconnected neurons containing
words and concepts, so the more often you access some specific neurons, the
more accessible they become.
Consequently, if you use some
words often, they will come to mind easily – even when you are
This means that you can fight the negative consequences of stress by preparing the vocabulary of
your presentation in advance and by rehearsing it
During this preparation, pay special attention to the beginning of your
presentation. Indeed, the first few minutes are vitally important: If you start
off well, you will develop the rest of your topic with more ease and
Finally, remember that words are important, but that the message
Making a good presentation means communicating
your message, and you can use many different words. So if you can’t find
that one specific term, don’t worry: just keep explaining your idea with
Fear # 3 – Is everybody going to understand myEnglish?
Good news: Being a native speaker of English does not guarantee that your
presentation will be clear and understandable to all.
Check out the following video and you will soon realize that some British
accents are barely understandable:
If you want to be understood by your audience, you obviously need to speak
clear English (even with a foreign accent as we’ve seen in fear #1), but more
importantly you need to:
·structure your presentation logically and
·use the right intonation.
Indeed a coherent structure will help listeners follow the flow of your
presentation, while your intonation will keep your audience interested.
Let’s look at each of these 2 elements more closely:
When you are working on the structure of
your speech, think first of the objective that you want to achieve. Do you wish
to inform, to convince, to entertain or to inspire your audience?
Then divide your presentation in 3 parts: introduction, body, and
In the introduction present the issue and the plan of the presentation. In
the body develop the ideas or facts that you would like to communicate. In the
conclusion repeat the important information and close the issue.
Repeating information will help your audience remember, so don’t be afraid
of repeating the main points.
In other words tell your audience what you’re going to tell them; tell
them; then tell them what you have told them.
Tell them what you’re going to tell them
Tell them what you have told them.
Intonation is more important than you might think: without vocal variety a
presentation very quickly becomes boring and listeners stop paying attention.
To capture attention your voice needs to be friendly and expressive.
Also, intonation adds meaning. Indeed the same sentence can take on very
different meanings depending on the tone used.
Let’s take the sentence “I’m sure he’ll think of a better plan” as an
I’m sure he’ll think of a better plan = no word is stressed and this is a
I’m sure he’ll think of a better plan
= the word ‘better’ is stressed, meaning that the first plan he submitted was
not very good
I’m sure he’ll think
of a better plan = the pronoun ‘he’ is stressed, implying that I’m jealous of
I’m sure he’ll think of a better
plan = the adjective ‘sure’ is stressed because I want to say that I have no
doubts about it
To check if your voice is expressive and engaging, you can record or film
your presentation and listen to it.
You will quickly spot the passages where your voice is dull or unpleasant.
Then practice each passage while modulating the pitch and stress of sentences
until your tone of voice makes your message interesting and clear to
Fear # 4 – I’m afraid my presentation will be boring
because I speak too slowly
Because English is not your native language, you speak more slowly.
However, this weakness is also your strength because you need to speak more slowly when
speaking in public.
Indeed the flow of words in a presentation cannot be the same as in a
conversation because presentations contain a lot of new information that has to
be digested by the audience.
Great speakers adjust the pace of their presentations to their audiences to
be sure that they are understood. For example, when J.F. Kennedy addressed
Berliners in 1963, he intentionally spoke slowly:
If you move too quickly from one idea to the next, your listeners won’t
have enough time to understand, and in the end they will switch off.
So if you think your pace is too slow, it actually means that it is just
Moreover, like intonation, the right use of timing in your speech conveys
meaning – pauses in a speech add emphasis.
For example, compare the following statement with and without any pauses:
“If all of us do our share, we will succeed!”
“If – pause – all of us – pause – do our share – pause – we will succeed!”
The second sentence clearly has more strength than the first one.
Fear # 5 – Will I understand the audience’s questions?
The question and answer session is often the biggest worry for non-native
speakers of English. However, you can reduce
the stress caused by this part of your presentation by following these
First, since a presentation or speech is usually an event that you prepare
in advance, you can anticipate possible
Which parts of your presentation are most likely to be questioned?
Once you have identified the questions, you can prepare your answers.
Second, remember that you
are an expert: if you are presenting a topic to an audience, it means
that you know it well – or at least better than the others.
In other words, if you are confident about what you know, you don’t need to
Thirdly, if you don’t understand a question, you can use some strategies to buy time.
For example, you can say, “Could you repeat, please? I couldn’t hear you”
or you can ask, “What do you mean exactly?”. There are lots more useful phrases
to deal with questions in the downloadable Presentations
Phraselist mentioned above.
This way you have a second chance to hear the question and to think of an
However, if you cannot answer the question, stay confident, write down the
question, and say that you will look into the matter later.
In conclusion you can overcome
your fears of speaking in public and deliver awesome presentations in English.
However, the critical factor is preparation.
Good presentations are not improvised, but carefully prepared.
Even the most natural-sounding speeches by native speakers have been
rehearsed up to 200 times! That’s the advice that TED speakers receive –
practice your presentation every day until the D-day:
Let’s summarize. Speaking publicly in English makes us all nervous, but remember that:
Your foreign accent is fine as long as you avoid serious pronunciation
You will find the right words if you have rehearsed the presentation
Your presentation will be clear if you have built a logical structure and
if you add intonation
Your slower pace in English is perfect for public speaking, and pauses are
You can anticipate questions and prepare answers to them
One final thought: when you practice your presentation, you build up your
self-confidence, and self-confidence is the key to a successful presentation. It is a virtuous
So, how many times will you practice your next presentation?