Mentally Preparing for a Speech

We’ve all experienced butterflies and nerves before a speech.  But what if that is gone and there is still that unidentified something holding you back?  You begin to engage in public speaking only to realize that YOU are your own worst enemy—NOT the 30 sets of eyes watching you.  What do you do?

This is a common problem.  Many of us have it.  We tell ourselves things that simply are not true.  “I can’t present.”  “They aren’t interested in what I have to say.”  “I don’t inspire them.”  Public speaking would be difficult enough by itself, but in addition to that our brain can give us negative feedback before the presentation even begins.  What can one do?

One of the tools many turn to is self-affirmations.  We say aloud every day, “Dave, the crowd will love you.”  “Dave, you will inspire them.”  “Dave, you are a great presenter.”  And they are used with varying success.

A somewhat recent study suggests that there may be an even more helpful way to squash such negative self-talk.  It compares the effectiveness of declarative versus interrogative self-talk (Senay, Albarracín & Noguchi, 2010).

The research suggests that self-affirmations generally nudge the conscious portion of the brain when we need a way to impact the subconscious portion of the brain as well.  The good news is that there is such a technique right at our disposal.

It goes something like this…  With positive affirmations we declare that “Dave, you will tell stories that inspire them.”  This impacts the conscious portion of our brain.  But this contradicts what our subconscious mind is telling us.  So, it creates a conflict…

However, if we ask ourselves, “Do I tell lousy stories during my presentations?”  “Have any of my stories been well-received?”  Then we may begin to work through the situation at a more subconscious level.  “Yes, I’ve had a couple of stories that worked out wonderfully because…”  “Another story fell flat because…”  “The last story went really well.”  “How could I do more of that?”

Identify those unhelpful thoughts you may be having about your presentations.  Turn them into questions and then answer those questions.  Additional follow-up questions that tap into your creativity may produce even more and better answers.  “How could I change my well-received story to get an even better response?”  “How does that apply to the other parts of my speech…?”

Following this approach may help you sort out the conflicts in your mind, so that your body can be more at ease and ready to tackle the visible elements of speaking on your presentation day.


Senay, I., Albarracín, D., & Noguchi, K. (2010). Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense. Psychological Science 21(4), 499-504.