Helpful Self-Talk Language Shift For Nervous Speakers

Helpful Self-Talk Language Shift For Nervous Speakers

[Updated July 2020]. I often chat to clients about their self-talk around public speaking. Using helpful self-talk language before you present will make a difference to how confident and in control you feel. And research from 2015 is showing that, believe it or not, talking to yourself using your own name or the second or third person can help! 

It can also work when you’re reflecting on the event after it’s happened.

This seems to work because it puts some distance between you and the emotional, stressful experience you’re going through. And when you do that, you achieve a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective that helps you to feel more in control.

The Harvard Study

The study I’m referencing was discussed in the Harvard Business Review in February 2015, and the link is here if you’re interested in reading more. 

Let me quote a section of the article which is most interesting to people struggling with public speaking and presentation anxiety:

“For example, in one study we found that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using “I” or “me.”

Cork board with two post-its stuck with red pins. One says "me", the other "you"
Helpful Self-Talk Language

The effects extended beyond the task, too: People who had used non-first-person pronouns or their names felt more positively about their performance on the speech once it was over. They also experienced less shame about it and ruminated about it less. Those are big pluses — ruminating endlessly over past experiences can hurt not only your psychological well-being but also your physical health.

It didn’t matter whether the research subjects were anxious or calm at baseline; both types of people benefited from the subtle shift in language.

Nor were there different effects for use of the second- or third-person pronouns or their own names. All that mattered was whether the participants did or didn’t use first-person pronouns.”


So don’t talk to yourself using “I” or “me” language; instead, speak to yourself in ways similar to these examples before you present, and when thinking about it afterwards:

  • “[your name], you can do this!”
  • “It’s up to you to make this happen”
  • “You’ve done the practice, you can make this work”
  • “[your name] is great in these situations!”

This last example is taking it even further, to completely detach from yourself, as if someone else entirely is speaking about you. It might even make you smile, which is also a good thing!

The important thing is to come up with language that resonates with you. It may be how you’d usually talk to yourself, or an extension that makes you feel as though you’re extending your reach and ability. Whatever works for you.

I like this sort of research, because it’s not a major effort to shift your language from “I” or “me” to “[your name] or “you”. Self-awareness and practice are the keys to making this work. If you practise it initially when you’re not stressed, you’ll be able to access it when you are under pressure.

Good luck with your next presentation!

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