Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking Using Visualization Techniques

Using mental imagery to enhance your performance

By Peter M. Vishton, PhDWilliam & Mary
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Does the idea of public speaking make your stomach churn? You’re not alone. Thankfully, there is an easy fix for this. Professor Vishton provides some fun, effective visualization techniques.

Woman giving a speech
To quell the fear or nervousness associated with public speaking, mentally visualize the audience in your mind’s eye the same way you expect to see them in real life and see yourself successfully giving your speech. Photo by Halfpoint / Shutterstock

Performance Imagery and Music

Mental imagery isn’t just useful for improving your golfing, tennis, and other sports performance. It has also been shown to be successful in terms of musical performance and public speech.

Let’s start with musical performance. Suppose you want to enhance your ability to play some piece on the piano.

In addition to physically practicing the piece, you should also spend time mentally practicing it by mentally picturing yourself playing the piece, hitting all the right notes. Your performance will especially improve if you engage in imagery from a first-person perspective, also in a multisensory, precise fashion that culminates in a vision of you successfully performing the piece.

Visualization for Public Speaking

Imagery has been shown to be useful outside the domain of visuomotor action as well. If you’re preparing to give a public speech, it’s natural to be a little nervous.

A simple thing you can do to overcome that fear or nervousness is to vividly imagine giving the speech. As with motor performance, you want to imagine it from a first-person perspective—see the audience in your mind’s eye the same way you expect to see them in real life. 

You should imagine things in a multisensory fashion—hearing the murmurs in the crowd, seeing all the colors in the room, and feeling the microphone in your hand. If you can, get a look at the room where you’ll give the speech, in advance, so you can make your mental simulation as vivid as possible.

You should imagine the speech precisely. Think through the details of what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. 

Finally—and this is especially important for dealing with the anxiety—imagine the speech going well. Imagine the words coming out the way you hope they will. Imagine people applauding at the end. Imagine the smiling congratulations that you’ll get for a job well done.

Enhancing Performance through Imagery

This process of using imagery to reduce performance anxiety is very related to how many phobias are treated. If you practice staying relaxed and focused in the low-stress environment of your own mind, then you’ll likely transfer that learning to the real-world environment when the time comes.

Whatever you’d like to do better, imagery provides an exciting, potentially powerful way of enhancing that performance. It’s often good to think strategically about these things you want to change about your behaviors. 

These thoughts usually take place at a very cognitive, conscious level. After you’ve completed those plans, it’s important to imagine putting them into action. 

By thinking from a first-person perspective, in a multisensory and precise fashion, and by envisioning successful performance, you can build connections between that strategic thinking and the parts of your brain that actually implement your actions. If you can imagine your goal in the right way, you can make more rapid progress toward achieving it.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Image of Professor Peter Vishton

Peter M. Vishton is Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary. He earned his PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation.

About Kate Findley 365 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.