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Speaking Anxiety: Does Size Matter?

As someone who has been speaking in public and performing most of my adult life, I still feel anxious when anticipating my next venture. If I said I always feel composed and confident and my nerves are consistently steady as I approach my audience, I’d be lying.

Good news is, I’ve learned to manage my nerves and anxiety when speaking and I use them to my advantage. I’ve learned you need to become friends with your nerves. Easier said than done? Maybe, but if you’re able to understand better what triggers your nerves and anxiety, you will have better control of this friendship. 

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts addressing fear of public speaking. Since this is such a broad topic, we will break it down into bite-size pieces.

For starters, think about your audience. Does size make a difference . . .
– when you’re speaking to someone 1:1?
– when you’re addressing a large group?
– when you’re in a room with important decision makers?
– when you’re in front of your team?
– when you’re running a virtual meeting?

Addressing these is a great way to start assessing what triggers your speaking anxiety. 

1) “One-on-one is fine, but big groups scare me.”

You know you are comfortable speaking 1:1, but as soon as you walk into a room of ten or more people your palms start to sweat, your pupils dilate, and your heart starts to race.

When this happens, go to your strength.

Focus on one person at a time. Whether you’re in a board room, lecture hall or Zoom meeting, find the one person with whom you can make eye contact and focus on this person as you begin speaking.

Be sure to keep your body very open to this person. Doing this will give the impression that you’re speaking to everyone on that side of the room, even though you’re really focusing on that one person. After you get a few sentences under your belt, go to the next person, same idea.

Pro Tip for Zoom Meetingsif you can, use speaker view. You’ll be less daunted by the number of people on the call, allowing you to focus on your strength – which is speaking to one person at a time.

2) “I feed off a crowd, but meeting with just one person makes me self-conscious.” 

When you feel comfortable speaking in a crowd, it is easier to focus on the audience. But when you speak with someone 1:1, the focus changes to YOU.

You start to get into your head . . . How is this meeting going? Did I answer their question the way they wanted me to answer it? Does this person actually like me? 

When the wheels start turning . . .

  1. Stop.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Switch your focus from yourself to the other person.


Now start small. Notice the person in front of you (or on your screen). What do you observe about this person? It can be their tie pattern, their earrings or the interesting pen on their desk. It may seem insignificant, but when you force yourself to notice small details, you’ll be on your way to getting out of your head.

Little by little, you’ll start to focus on the other person and really hear what they are saying and see how they like to communicate. Now you can focus on the message of the meeting at hand without the interruption of self-destructing talk and mind games

Too often we give in to our negative self-talk as it relates to our communication, both large and small scale. This destructive way of thinking will only feed your anxiety monster, giving it the fuel it needs to fill your head with self-doubt.

Know what your triggers are and play to your strengths.

A good example — one of my clients had a number that was VERY specific. That number was seven. Being in front of a group with more than seven people stopped her in her tracks. But once she determined that this specific number was a trigger, she was able to manage that anxiety so it didn’t throw her off her game.

Public speaking and effective communication are skills developed over time. By working with a public speaking coach, you will gain the tools you need to achieve immediate results and better executive presence.

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