Are You Scared of Public Speaking?

Alex hates public speaking but sometimes has to make speeches for his job. He stresses out the whole night before. Luckily, I heard about a cool trick…

Make a fist with your left hand.

“Freaking out is primarily associated with the left hemisphere of the brain,” wrote The Atlantic, so researchers found that making a fist with your left hand helps “draw focus away from the left hemisphere” and turns off the worrying part of your brain.

Cool, right? Will you try it? Do you find public speaking nerve-wracking?

P.S. My elevator phobia.

(Photo of Yves Saint Laurent being pushed onstage, Paris, 1986, via Messy Nessy Chic)

  1. Making a fist is like a confidence booster. I don’t know why, but it makes you feel good. Just read and practice, it can help you become good at public speaking. Who knows, you might end up a great Funny motivational speaker!

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  4. This is a great tip, but only if you do it BEFORE you go onstage! If you’re clenching while you’re up there, a couple things will happen:

    1) You’ll limit your gestural abilities. You want to balance between gesturing and resting arms at the sides. A clenched fist will lead you to lean more heavily on 1-armed gestures, which look pedantic and professorial.

    2) You might feel less nervous, but you’ll look more nervous! A clenching of the hands, holding onto the lectern, or any nervous gestures are a dead giveaway to your audience that you’re petrified. You want to avoid looking nervous (even if you are) so you don’t undermine your audience’s confidence in you as a speaker.

    Best thing to quell nerves? Deep belly breathes and visualization. Spend a few days practicing and while you do, visualize how well you’ll do and how the presentation will go. As a professional public speaker and communications coach, I can personally attest to how powerful it can be!


  5. So funny, I’ll have to try this! I’m not usually so bad with public speaking, but I had to give a presentation to an auditorium of people for the first time, and that was scary. And of course, the computer inevitably glitched, so my powerpoint had issues.

  6. I used to be so afraid of public speaking throughout my teenage years. Every time I had to do a presentation for school I would be physically shaking throughout it and teeth chattering. I didn’t have a problem at work talking to customers or anything, my fear was strictly academic related.

    I was offered a job as an Historical Interpreter at a museum that I had done my volunteer hours for school at and I took it without even thinking. I was pretty nervous at first but I quickly became comfortable with public speaking and it really helped my fear of doing it in a classroom. I’m sure this trick might have helped me get comfortable with it a little quicker though.

    I owe a huge part of who I am to that job actually, I was such a shy person and now I’m much more outgoing. That job did more for me than my old boss will ever know! It gave me confidence not only with speaking but with who I was and became.

  7. gonna try it this friday. I usually gt something from the homeopathic doctor i consult. I dont know what they are, but I call them my confidence pills.

  8. Definitely will be trying this!

  9. Ugh. I’m the worst! Not only do I hate public speaking, but I hate being the center of attention. It’s funny because I’m not shy at all…I’ll talk to anyone, but, for example, I had to answer a question at a staff meeting last week…literally just a question in front of 30 of my co-workers, and when I was done answering it my hands were shaking so badly. I just hate having a whole group look at me. I’m ridiculous!

  10. maiken, that books sounds great! i’m going to look it up. and hannah, i LOVE that trick. thank you! i’ll tell alex:) thanks for all these great comments.

  11. Funnily enough, I had to deliver a speech this week! I was previously nervous but as I got further and further up to the time, I was like to myself, no, you’re ready to do this, there’s nothing to be nervous about – in fact, take the opportunity in stride! haha I think it’s just about the mind, convincing yourself mostly, not psyching yourself out – so I stood up and did it, and once I was up there, I really enjoyed myself! There’s not often a lot of time in this world where people solely listen to you, so my advice to myself was, make the most of it, don’t shy away from it!

  12. Interesting about the fist. I used to act (just for fun, in school) and I found, just the moment before I had to go on stage, I’d probably have rather done anything than taken those steps, but then once on stage, I was FINE. Not a thought about anything except what I had to do. But public speaking? As yourself? YIKES.

    My husband used to be active with the local Toastmasters Group, and it really did help him a LOT. If I every have to go that, I might explore a group like TM to give myself practice and tips when it’s only a small, friendly group, and not a large room of strangers. :)

  13. A good trick if you find your hands normally shake during a speech is to press your palms tightly together for about 30 seconds before, as if you’re praying (your arms will start to shake if you’re pressing hard enough). I’ve been told it should stop your hands from shaking during your speech but am yet to try it!

    Hannah x

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  15. The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right-hand side of the body…

  16. dc says...

    Terrified!! I’ll try it next time. I’m not a shy person but standing in front of an audience with everybody’s attention focused on me makes me almost physically ill.

  17. Cool! I’ve never heard of this. Have you ever heard of the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain? It’s about introverts. I’m in the chapter on public speaking (and the secret on how to do it well if you’re an introvert). It’s definitely worth checking out whatever your personality.

  18. I think I could try this with other things! I’m going to do it today :)

  19. I’m an author, so events and public speaking are a necessity. I have my next one a month away. I’m already having nightmares about it. I’ll have to try this!

  20. (But I know lots of actors who are very shy people. Not me, ever.)

  21. I’m an actress so I’m not! :D

  22. I also reaaally hate talking in public and doing job interviews. I remember once at an interview, I drank too much coffee and I was shaking… it was sooo embarasing and of course I didn’t get the job.

  23. Of course, i hate talking in public!

  24. I hope this will work for interviewing. My hands get so clammy right before the interview, which is bad because good interview etiquette requires shaking the interviewer’s hand. I will definitely try it.
    Thanks for the tip.

  25. Wow, this is such good timing! I have to teach tomorrow for the first time ever. I will definitely try this.

  26. That article doesn’t mention public speaking at all! Can you explain how you drew the conclusion that what the article is about, sports performance, would apply to public speaking? Seems like a leap, and pretty misleading.

  27. I had to do a lot of big presentations at my last job. I overcame my nervousness by taking a course that gave us things to do to trick our brain. One was to squeeze your palms together just before speaking. Another was to make eye contact with people in the audience, rather than starting out to the back of the room. This helps to focus your brain, which makes you feel more in control, and calmer. Once I mastered these techniques, I loved giving presentations!

  28. JB says...

    I will definitely try this tomorrow. I’m starting a new job and I get really nervous around new people and situations. Thanks!

  29. i have a public communications degree and am among the extreme minority of people who enjoy public speaking. i get a huge rush from the pressure to sound coherent and thoughtful and actually being able to pull it off. in college we read of a study that showed that speaking in public is the most common fear.

  30. I’m an actor, so people always just assume I’m good at public speaking. But the truth is, it terrifies me and I’m a HORRIBLE public speaker. It’s difficult to explain to people the difference between this and acting, and why I’m comfortable with the latter but not the former.

  31. I am terrified of public speaking! I go all red and start to slightly stutter. This wont help with the redness but maybe it will help with stutter! I hope it works its so embarrassing when I have to give a presentation at uni!

  32. Interesting tip! I actually have a phobia of speaking in a classroom setting, even though I’ve done voice solos in front of thousands and have NO problem in meetings! It’s super weird, but I’ll definitely try this if I ever get nervous :)


  33. I used to really hate public speaking. I was that person that swayed from one foot to another and would always say, “um” in between pauses. It wasn’t until I got to college and had to talk about subjects that I was really passionate about, that I started to enjoy public speaking. Now, I take any opportunity I can!

    • I was also going to point out this TED talk. This is an incredible scientific study, and I would imagine that anyone interested in the study mentioned in this post would be even more interested in the study from this TED talk.

  34. I’ve never had any issues with public speaking (I actually quite like it!) but there’s always a surge of adrenaline. I am going to have to test this out!

  35. That’s so true. It happens to me sometimes when I’m stressed or anxious: Suddenly I realize I made a fist with my left hand… To me, it doesn’t help much, but I can’t help doing it…

  36. That study you noted is all about physical performance. Clenching your left hand causes the right side of the brain to work, thus allowing your left brain a “break” from distracting thoughts. There is no evidence that this helps in anything other than physical performance. Definitely this article doesn’t say anything about helping you during public speaking.

    I love your blog, but you’ve got to be careful about giving out incorrect or misguided information – even on the little issues.

    • AMEN!

  37. public speaking has been a fear of mine for forever. i remember going to a wedding when i was 4 or 5 and deciding i didn’t want to get married because the reciting vows part involved speaking in front of people!

  38. I’m so going to try this on my next speech! Thanks so much!!


  39. I might walk around all day with a fisted left hand–turns off worrying??!!

  40. Another cool trick that works really well is writing down everything your nervous about on a piece of paper right before speaking… “I’m going to look like an idiot,” or, “I’m going to forget my whole speech” for example. After writing down these concerns (ALL of them, even the “stupid” ones), ceremoniously tear up the piece of paper.

    This trick has helped me a lot!

  41. I’m a teacher, so no…talking to crowds doesn’t bother me.

    But it used to.

    I got over it in high school by signing up for drama club. After being in a few plays, and learning some hard lessons about the importance of preparation, it got a LOT easier.

    I always remind students when they have to give speeches that we as humans are incredibly self-centered. The people in the audience are most likely not paying attention to how much you’re sweating, or if you botch a word or two – they’re too busy wrapped up in their own thoughts. If all else fails, and you do mess up – own up to it, give a lighthearted chuckle, and say “Let’s try that again.” Works every time. :-)

  42. Cool! I’m a big fan of adopting the wonder woman pose to boost confidence, myself.

  43. I once took a course with JFK’s speech coach. He told us JFK’s hand gestures helped calm him while adding emphasis at the most important – and nerve-racking – moments. Maybe there was something similar going on with his brain? JFK also had his pants tailored to hide the trembling in his knees. Alex is in good company!

  44. So interesting! When I get super nervous I find myself squeezing my right pointer finger and thumb together really hard. It helps!

    My dad, who’s a dentist, has another weird trick. When he’s taking impressions of people’s teeth (where they stick that tray with the pink goop in your mouth to make a model of your teeth for splints or bleaching trays)he always tells patients that if they feel like they’re starting to gag, to raise their left leg. Somehow, it always works to suppress the gag reflex! So weird!

  45. how super interesting. i hate public speaking and standing in front of crowds of people (this is weird, because as a child i used to stand in front of audiences during solo flute concerts and i was perfectly fine..) — but my job as an adult required public speaking and i would dread it. my heart would thump and my voice would shake. people would tell me that i’m fine but my line of work also required some charisma while speaking in public and it was just something that i didn’t have. i’m more of an introvert (unless i know the people i’m talking too.. which is also weird..) i wish i knew the squeezing the left hand trick!

  46. Excellent timing! I have to give a presentation in class tonight! I’ll try it!

  47. I’m am the worst at public speaking!! This is cool, maybe I’ll give it a try.

  48. Definitely a cool trick! I will make sure to do this the next time I have to give a speech!!
    xo TJ

  49. Yeah, sorry that doesn’t work. I showed horses in western disciplines for many years. I showed one-handed which meant the proper position for my left hand was either straight down.. or in a “fist” at a angle parallel to the ground. Well, I would do my rides with my fist clenched.. but damn if I lost my jitters even when riding! That’s one of the reasons I stopped showing. I loved to ride. I loved the training but I hated the “only one shot” to succeed you get when you show.

  50. Doesn’t the left hemisphere of the brain control the ride side of you body (and vice versa)? If so, I would like you should make a fist with your right hand to distract the left side of the brain.

    • Haha that’s what I was going to point out too! So this obviously doesn’t work, unless the people who came up with it were wrong and actually meant to distract the right side of the brain – not the left.

      (BTW – there was an entire episode of SATC that drove me nuts because the story Carrie was writing through the episode talked about the left hemisphere being the creative side and the right one being the logical side. You’d think one of the people working on the show would have thought to double-check a key thing like that haha).

    • Makes perfect sense, because (like I mentioned below) I squeeze my right pointer finger and thumb together when I get crazy nervous. I always thought it was because it helps channel all of that nervous energy somewhere else.

    • GJ says...

      You beat me to it, omoriala! I’m still curious to try the trick out with either hand to see if it works, but it certainly is false that the left hemisphere is in control of the left side of the body!

  51. I’m totally going to try this trick. I have a insane fear of talking in front of people-as well as making small talk. Does small talk have to do with that side of the brain too?

  52. I just realized I do this subconsciously all the time!! When I am nervous I notice that i always feel calmer when I am holding a crunched up tissue or napkin in my left fist. At the end of a dinner party or cocktail party, i am often left with multiple scrunched napkins in my purse that I hide when I need to use both hands. Weird!

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  53. I will have to try this! I sing in churches a lot, some big, some small. This weekend will provide me with a larger audience, and I always feel like my voice is shaky for the first few minutes. I’ll remember this trick!

  54. I can totally relate to your hubby. Even when we have to make informal introductions to groups, my heart starts palpitating and my palms get a little moist. For me, taking a few deep breaths and clasping my hands together helps. It’s like reminding my body to center itself and relax.

    Linh of {forever darlinh}

  55. I used to hate public speaking but now I have to give presentations for my job all of the time. It becomes surprisingly easy after a while… although I think I would still panic a little if a teacher called on me to read out loud today.

  56. This is awesome! I love speaking in front of people but have those moments where I feel a bit overwhelmed. I will definitely try this out. Thanks :)

    Holistic Health Coach

  57. I just realized I do this subconsciously all the time!! When I am nervous I notice that i always feel calmer when I am holding a crunched up tissue or napkin in my left fist. At the end of a dinner party or cocktail party, i am often left with multiple scrunched napkins in my purse that I hide when I need to use both hands. Weird!

  58. I am scared of public speaking (but luckily) don’t have to do much of it). I am also scared of elevators because I was stuck in one once as a kid — not for very long. However I love that “up and then down” story…I read it a few months back and now always think about it when im in an elevator. Who knew the close button doesn’t work? :)

  59. That’s a great tip! I think I’ll just keep my left hand in a fist permanently now.

  60. I wonder if this helps with blushing caused by public anxiety?? Forget public speaking, i turn bright red just by someone calling attention to me in a big room of people!

  61. i will definitely try it, i get SO nervous right before. i know i make my husband batty the night before, wishing for illness or snow storms to avoid a little public speaking.

  62. oh wow, never heard of that method before, I must give it a try. I tend to be okay at public speaking until i catch someones eye (especially someone important) and then I go beetroot red and start worrying and tripping over words, maybe this little fist clench will keep me steady next time ^^


  63. perfect timing…I have a huge executive meeting next week.. i will try it!

  64. This is so timely! I’m giving a brief presentation this evening to the board of my association, and I am freaking out. Like I’m a big ball of anxiety! I will try this tip!

  65. jm says...

    I am ridiculously nervous making a speech or presentation. My mouth goes dry and my hands shake. I would definitely give this a try.

  66. Definitely going to try this! I have no problem getting up in front of my students everyday, but put me in front of my peers or colleagues and I clam up! Thanks for the tip ;)

  67. I used to be the shyest person ever, hated public speaking so much! But I forced myself to get over it three years ago when I started teaching child birth ed…nothing like explaining the birth process to a room full of expectant parents to force you to get over it quickly! :) now I love it!

  68. i hate public speaking! i had to present my work as a scientist-wannabe at an international congress earlier this week and it was intense. english is not my first language and normally i’m not that bad, but with the stress i couldn’t improvise, you know? having all those things to say and the fear of not being able to… so i guess it was a bit bumpy but no one complained, other than me ;)

    note to self: make a fist with left hand!

    thank you joanna :)

  69. I taught middle school. Out of necessity, any vestiges of fear of public speaking were eradicated during my student teaching.

    I was on JEOPARDY a few years after I started and the contestant coordinators told me that schoolteachers and litigators are the most relaxed since the stakes are usually lower for them than their average day job – it’s just TV!

  70. I am SO going to try this! I hate public speaking but have to do it a lot for my college course (we regularly present our projects to the rest of the class for critique).

  71. I’ve only had to speak in front of alot of people a few times but the biggest group was at my dads memorial where the were about 300 people. I made sure to just look up and make eye contact with the crowd and that totally relaxed me!

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  73. I’ll try it. I’ll try anything that might help! Thanks for the tip.