Five Tips for Controlling Stage Fright

We can remember five easily because we can count1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on the fingers of one hand. Thus this is a handy unit of organization.

Stage fright is the area of public speaking I receive the most questions about. Here are five ways to control stage fright.

Be prepared. There is no substitute for careful preparation. Practice new material at least three times. Each time you practice you gain confidence. Practice your delivery by simulating the speaking situation—standing and delivering the content as though you have an audience.

Be physically ready for your presentation. Get the proper amount of sleep the night before you speak.  Practice a healthy diet before speaking. Go light on sugar and caffeine. Wear comfortable clothing.

Learn about your audience. Become as familiar with your audience as you can. The more you know about your audience and the speaking context, the more comfortable you will be. One of the causes of stage fright is fear of the unknown. By going online and checking out websites,  articles, and blogs that relate to your audience, the unknown will grow smaller and your confidence will increase.

If you are not familiar with the city or speaking location, check out directions ahead of time. Verify pronunciation of any unusual proper nouns connected with the speech, such as the names of people you will be meeting and talking to and the name of the city or location of the speech. For example it is Lafayette (Lah fi ET), Indiana, but Lafayette(Lah FAY it), Tennessee.

Develop a positive mental attitude toward your speech and the audience. You are speaking on a topic you know a lot about and are excited to share with your audience. (If that is not the case, you have my sympathy and perhaps you should be looking for another career). Shut out thoughts of “This audience does not care about this topic” or “They don’t want to hear me speak.”  Instead fill your mind with “I have prepared well for this presentation” and “The audience will learn important principles from my talk.” 

Finally, get off to a good start. Work hard on your opening lines to get attention and to preview your presentation in an interesting and creative way. If you get off to a good start, you quickly lose the high level of anxiety and become at ease with your audience. That beginning could be a relevant quotation, story, or reference to a current event that ties in with your topic. Attempt humor only if it relates to your topic and you have a high comfort level with using humor.

So here you have your handy list of five strategies to cope with stage fright. Remember Dale Carnegie’s classic statement: “You don’t want to get rid of the butterflies in your stomach; you just want to get them to fly in formation.” 

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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