Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking

The most common phobia is the fear of public speaking.  Isn’t it ironic that more people are afraid of standing in front of a group of people than they are of death?

 School does little to prepare us for this.  Most jobs don’t prepare us for it either.  Most of us lack confidence, which is the root of the fear of public speaking.

Public speaking has benefits:

  • It boosts your confidence levels, and therefore creates more opportunities for success in job interviews and in our careers.
  • You will be more comfortable “breaking the ice” and starting conversations with strangers. This expands your social circle and improves your personal life as well.
  • You will be more comfortable working in a team, an important part of most jobs these days.
  • You will be able to give effective presentations and seminars.  This improves your professional life and relations with colleagues.

“Great, sounds good but that doesn’t help me not feel like puking at the thought of standing on a platform holding a microphone.”

NO it doesn’t, but instead of automatically saying ‘I can’t’ it helps to look at the benefits to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

What are the risks?

  • I’ll embarrass myself. (I can do that without standing on a stage!  If you do, then chalk it up to the most embarrassing moments and move on.)
  • I might forget everything, and lock up. (That’s why you make notes whether on index cards, or you type out everything you plan to say and read it from the paper.)
  • I might mess up. (Don’t we all? Prepare the best you can, and give it your best shot.)
  • People might laugh at me. (Then use it!  Get them to laugh with you. Clear the air with a joke; put things in a humorous context.)
  • I will look like a fool. (Maybe, but Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tim Allen all got their start this way.)
  • I might puke. (Been there done that and I survived.  Hint: Don’t eat much for a couple of hours before you speak.  You can always pig out afterwards.)

“I don’t know, it still seems so scary.”

Let’s look at what we can do to overcome those fears.

1.      Take the Plunge Like the Nike ad, just do it.  Start with small groups that you would be comfortable with. My first speaking engagement was in a group that had 6 people. That’s like sitting around having coffee.  Lead a small group, invite your friends to a Book Club, and ask them questions about the book.  Join a writing group, discuss openly. When you get a little braver, join a group such as toastmasters.

2.      Preparation Think about what you are going to say. Write it down.  Practice at home and time yourself.  Practice several times.  You’ll find as you repeat your material, you’ll be adding a bit here and there expounding on specific points, and possibly editing things out that sounded better on paper.  Record yourself, and listen to it.  Are you stuttering?  Saying ummmmmm, ok, or some other word frequently?  Practice makes perfect, or at least passable.  Don’t expect to wow the audience your first time out of the chute!  Thomas Edison stated “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.”  The same holds true for writing, and for public speaking.  Nobody sees the practice in the living room, or in front of your bathroom mirror.  By going through your material several times, this also will help you not forget and go blank.  If you lose your place refer to your cards.

3.      Who Are They?  Know your audience.  If you are speaking to a group of high school students, you will want to present different material than you would present to adults.  Don’t try to force slang expressions to sound cool, and don’t talk down to people.  Speak in understandable language that they can relate to.  If you’re speaking to a room full of nurses it’s fine to use nurse-ese; but to us non nurse type, it’s best to use layman’s terms. Which leads to the next point:

4.      Speak to Like-Minded People Relate to the people you are speaking to.  I could never speak to a room full of nurses about nursing topics.  I could however speak to them from the perspective of why patients have a fear and loathing of nurses, it’s called needles. I could describe moments of panic, from the patient’s point of view in a humorous vein that will lighten the tone yet get my point across.

5.      Sport the Tude Dr. Robert Schuler stated “You are what you think about all day long.” Quit the negative self talk of “I can’t, I’m afraid, I’m not good enough.”  If that’s what you tell yourself you’re right.  How are you ever going to get better if you don’t change your attitude?

6.      Perseverance You get better with practice so don’t base your whole experience on your first attempt.  Learn from your mistakes and do better next time. The best thing to do when you get thrown by a horse is get back on and show it who is boss! Yes, it can be a blow to your pride. Learning can be humbling, but you’re better off for it.

7.      Everyone’s a Critic OK, after you cry from the criticism whether it’s from yourself or from others wipe your eyes and evaluate the validity of the criticism. If it’s not valid, disregard it and don’t let it have power over you.  If it is then apply changes. 

8.      Rebound Get back in the game and get the next one.  Bounce back from your failures. If you aren’t failing, then you’re not trying. As John Maxwell has stated, we ‘fail forward’. This is where you have to put on your big girl panties or big boy pants and suck it up buttercup and deal!  You can stay in your failure, or you can improve and move closer to your success.

9.      Miss Personality Obviously not everyone is outgoing, outspoken, or the life of the party.  Go with your personality!  I am the party princess, and I try to make it “fun” for the audience.  Sometimes that’s at my own expense by sharing my  failures and shortcomings.  (What? Like they can’t see them anyway?) Perhaps you’re the more logical type, prone to using statistics.  Using the EIEIO principle, you can be an effective speaker and be yourself. (See more about EIEIO on Perception.) I typically use the inform and entertain to grab my audience’s attention.

10.  Celebrate Success! First, you celebrate because you got outside of your phobia box and tried it! (Yay!) Secondly, you celebrate your victories, the parts you did right!  Let’s get one thing straight right now, throw away your ideas of perfectionism.  Give it your best effort and celebrate that you did!


My first public speaking to a larger group, which consisted of about 100 people was lame! I was shaking like a leaf from being nervous. I said ok about 50 times. I stuttered and stammered through my presentation by reading everything from my papers. I puked! I had cotton mouth and kept clearing my throat.

I had received the worst advice I think anyone has ever given which was to imagine your audience naked.  I was embarrassed beyond anything I’ve ever felt.  Trust me; it’s not a good idea to picture your audience naked.  My audience ranged in age from 16 to 75. Their weight ranged from about 98 pounds to over 400.  NOT a good idea!

Keep in mind that they are people, not super beings from another planet with laser beam eyes that will kill you if you mess up. Some of them might be vampires, but not super beings.

Write on my friends, write on!