Overcoming A Fear Of Public Speaking

Public SpeakingWhen asked to choose between public speaking or swimming in shark infested waters, a statistically significant portion of those polled would prefer swimming with the sharks to giving a speech!

Public speaking of any sort doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle affair.  Sure, it’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression and first impressions are generally lasting impressions, but it’s also true that a few quick tips will have you “speechifying” like a pro in no time!

Think TV

It’s no accident that a television commercial is 30 seconds long (or at most, 60 seconds.)  That’s because the average attention span of the television-viewing public is 30-seconds. If you have something to say and you want your audience to pay attention to it, you have to get the idea across in a 30-second sound byte.

What do you do if what you’ve got to say will take you longer than 30 seconds to convey?  Break your ideas up into 30-second chunks!  As you begin to prepare your material, understand what it is that you want to communicate and put the who, what, when, where, why and how of your topic into 30-second messages.

Focus on using clear language, simple imagery, and personal anecdotes to get your message across.  More than likely, you’ll have more than one point that you want to make: consider each point as a 30 second message.  String your 30-second messages together and you’ll have a coherent whole that will capture and captivate your audience!

Don’t Memorize!

It’s impossible to truly communicate with an audience if your time is spent trying to remember each word that you’ve written.  And what happens if you forget your lines?

Your goal is to be the one in control of your material, not to be controlled by it.  Memorization will produce a canned, stilted, unnatural presentation.

Instead, become familiar enough with your presentation to master the material.  It will make all the difference in the world in your ability to communicate with an audience, and it will free you of the stress and worry that comes with fear of forgetting your lines!

Never Read!

There’s a huge difference between the spoken word and the written word.  Many times, what “reads” wonderfully on the page is awkward and choppy when spoken.  When a speaker reads a speech to his or her audience, the result is often awkward and choppy as well.


Rather than memorizing or reading your speech, you should start to prepare by writing out what you want to say.  Craft your opening and closing statements and fill in the body of your speech with the points that you want to make regarding your topic(s).

Be sure as you’re writing out what you want to say that you include the who, what, when, where, why and how of your subject.  Get it all down on paper in a rough draft form.


Once you know what you want to say and the order in which you want to address your 30-second messages, distill your speech down into it’s essence:  Using 3×5 cards, write down the key words of each point you want to make.  Choose words that will remind you of what you want to say and put them onto the 3×5 card vertically, so that they’re easier and less cumbersome to handle while you’re delivering your speech.

Using your notes as a roadmap, as opposed to reading from, memorizing, or trying to follow the pages of a written speech will help you to deliver a more natural talk, and will help you to connect more intimately with your audience.

Dress Rehearsal!

Once you have your notes in hand, use them to practice your speech.  Rehearse as many times as necessary for you to feel in control of your material and comfortable with your presentation.  Each time you run through your speech you’ll find that it improves; each time will be a little different, a little better.

Mirror, Mirror…

Just as most folks are surprised by the sound of their own recorded voice – it never sounds to them as they hear it in their heads – most folks are surprised to “see” themselves in action.

Easy access to video cameras makes it convenient to record yourself during your dress rehearsals so that you can evaluate what you’re “saying” to your audience with your body language:  Make sure that your facial expressions, gestures, movements, intonation and your personal appearance are “saying” what you mean for them to say.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t look at all on stage like you thought you did!  That’s the point of recording yourself first.  As you watch yourself, check to be sure that you’re not doing anything to distract your audience.  Make sure that you’re establishing eye contact with your audience members, don’t look over their heads.  Use gestures and movements to emphasize the points that you want to make, don’t stand there stiff as a board.  And remember to smile!

Ask friends or family members to watch your recorded rehearsal and to comment on it.  And as you watch and evaluate your own performance, notice where there’s room for improvement and work on those places.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Remember, your audience has an attention span of 30 seconds.  If you want to keep their interest, make sure that you give them something different – information or new movement – every 30 seconds or so.

This is easily accomplished by smiling, moving forward or backward on the stage, gesturing with your hands, changing your posture, speaking softly or loudly, quickly or slowly, pausing, being dramatic, funny or emotional.

While these things might feel a little uncomfortable at first, with practice they’ll soon be second nature.

An Audience Of One

Actors working in front of a camera for the first time are often uncomfortable until they understand that the lens can be thought of as a “person.”  Once they understand that they’re speaking to that one “person,” their fear and awkwardness goes away.

Speaking is no different.  Imagine, as you’re crafting your speech and as you’re delivering your message, that you’re speaking to one individual.

Get your speech down on paper, distill it into keyword notes on a 3×5 card, rehearse your speech to achieve mastery over your material, but stay loose enough in the material to maintain natural communication with your audience.  Move! And when you’ve delivered the message that you set out to convey, smile, thank your audience and sit down!

Above all, relax and have fun.  If you find that you’re nervous, that’s OK!  The greatest speakers and performers in the world are nervous before they get on stage.  As you get into your material, your nervousness will go away, and before you know it, your room full of listeners will feel as though you’re chatting with a friend in your living room, except that your friends won’t usually applaud you for a job well done!


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