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I hate public speaking. Is ‘imagine the audience naked’ really the best advice for overcoming nerves? © Getty Images

I hate public speaking. Is ‘imagine the audience naked’ really the best advice for overcoming nerves?

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Get sweaty night terrors over the idea of public speaking? It’s better to prepare for a speech than simply visualise the audience in the nuddy.

This advice has been around for years. The idea is that it will make your audience seem less threatening and so reduce your nerves. However, public speaking experts say it’s an unwise technique – after all, the key to being an effective presenter is to respect and engage your audience, not to see them as the enemy or to mock them (if you have a vivid imagination, the strategy could also be overly distracting!).


To calm your nerves, you’re better off using a technique known as ‘cognitive reappraisal’. Research at Harvard Business School has shown that speakers who deliberately reevaluate their nerves as excitement rather than anxiety (for example, by saying “I am excited” out loud) perform better than those who try to calm themselves down.

More generally, one of the best things you can do is to prepare thoroughly. Make sure your speech does not overrun, practise in front of friends and family, and visit the venue ahead of time if you can. Finally, create some ‘if-then’ plans to help you cope, such as “if I begin to feel overwhelmed, then I will take a deep breath and refocus”.

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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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