Nervous Symptoms Are Unseen

Nervous symptoms seem catastrophic to the person experiencing them, even if the audience may never register their existence. What about trembling hands and knees? Squeaky voice? Dry mouth? Rapid heartbeat? Speakers have a tendency to feel like freaks of nature and that everyone watching thinks the same. Of course, this only occurs because all these symptoms happen to the speaker. However, in reality, the vast majority of nervous symptoms tend to go completely unseen by the audience. Unless a particular audience member shares a close proximity with the speaker, then odds are, the audience spends most of their time directing their focus on listening to the message. After all, few people (if any) participating as audience members attend speeches with the purpose of seeing if they can detect a speaker’s nervous symptoms.

Often, novice speakers will also apologize for their nerves, feeling as though the audience finds the manifestation of such symptoms distracting. However, apologizing only draws attention to symptoms that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Additionally, apologizing for nervous behaviors might compound the anxiety and make it worse.

Managing Physical Symptoms

Dry Mouth

  • Avoid dairy products, soda, and alcoholic beverages. Don’t smoke before speaking. All these items increase mucus production and might leave a lump in the throat.
  • Gently bite the tip of the tongue to trigger salivation.
  • Drink room-temperature or warm water. Add a lemon, if available.

For Sweaty Hands

  • Apply talcum powder or corn starch on hands/body.
  • Carry a handkerchief.

Red Splotches on the Face

  • Wear pink or red colors.
  • Wear high necklines.
  • Use humor to release endorphins.

Trembling Voice

  • Project voice to the back row of the audience.

Shaky Hands

  • Use gestures, but make them small; don’t wave about wildly.

Shaky Legs/Knocking Knees

  • Move around gently and easily, but do not pace.

Rapid Heartbeat

  • Engage in deep breathing.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine.



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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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