Take The Fear Out Of Public Speaking

You're a bright, dynamic executive. You've been scheduled to give a major company presentation. You're sitting in the audience waiting your turn to speak. You hear your name and start walking stiffly to the lectern.

Suddenly you're all alone and everyone is looking at you. You're racked with symptoms of tension: Your hands are clammy, your knees feel wobbly, and your heart is pounding. You've developed a strange shortness of breath and your breakfast is staging an uprising. "If I can just get started," you tell yourself, "everything will be fine." So you open your mouth ? and out comes a sound that is a cross between a squeaking balloon and a bad cough.

Twenty minutes later, you heave a sigh of relief and say weakly "Well, that's it I guess," and stagger back to your seat. It's over. It's all a blank. You have no sense of satisfaction from a job well done. And you tell yourself you'll never go through such a shattering experience again.

Take heart, for you have plenty of company. Public speaking can be a terrifying experience, and few have the training and confidence required to overcome the symptoms of fear.

I work with managers and executives who want to be better public speakers. For almost everyone a key to their success means redirecting tension and nervousness into useful and productive energy the way actors do.


Don't think about negative speaking experiences from your past. Instead, fantasize success. Imagine yourself speaking well.

Don't worry about how you're coming across, or about whether they'll like you. Know that you have an important message to give. Your audience will pick up on your enthusiasm and will be rooting for you.

Accept that what you are feeling happens to everyone. After the first minute the worst of your symptoms will be over.

Eliminate "all or nothing" thinking. "If I'm not perfect, I've blown it."

Think of public speaking as "enlarged conversation".

Get things in perspective. "What's the worst that can happen?" "Ten years from now who will remember this?" "I deserve to be here. I'm an expert on this subject."

Recognize that people don't listen well anyway. 48 hours from now they'll only remember 25% of what you said.


This is an acting term that means you have rehearsed your talk so well, that nothing can break your concentration. When you know your talk well, you don't have to worry about what you're going to say next. You're on automatic pilot.

Keep concentrating and keep going no matter what. The rule of improvisation means that no one will know you've made an error unless you stop and point it out.


Another actor's technique can help you avoid shortness of breath and a shaky voice. Most people when nervous hold their breath, but oxygen is the fuel for your voice. So take four long, slow deep breaths before you speak.

During your talk, pause and take another deep breath whenever you feel shaky.

For an extra long sentence take a quick inhale in the middle. You will end your though without your voice trailing off.


Physical movement releases nervous energy. Take a short walk before your speak. While walking recite the first minute of your speech a few times so that your voice is warmed up as well.

Get in the room early and practice walking up to the lectern. Look out at the room until you own it.

Roll your shoulders and lift them up to your ears

Shake your hands until they tingle, then swing them vigorously

Try these tips and turn your fear into the joy of speaking and connecting with an audience.

Roberta Prescott

Roberta Prescott heads The Prescott Group, a communication firm specializing in Executive Development. Visit our web site at http://www.theprescottgroup.com for more information on speaking seminars and executive coaching.

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