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How to Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

Updated on June 25, 2012

 Do you know what the number one human fear is? According to numerous studies, public speaking is more abhorrent to us than the fear of death, the fear of snakes and the fear of dentists. Perhaps that’s why many of us if asked to give a eulogy might actually prefer (temporarily) to be the person lying in the coffin.

Communicating successfully in public is a key factor in our success or failure in the workplace. Whether you find yourself addressing decision-makers at corporate headquarters or simply answering your boss’s question at a weekly staff meeting, it’s time for you to conquer your fear.

I wish I were dead, in a den of snakes, or at the dentist!
I wish I were dead, in a den of snakes, or at the dentist!

Here are 10 Tactics for Public Speaking Success

1. Practice some relaxation exercises before you begin. Take some long, deep breaths. Visualize yourself doing well while speaking as a diver visualizes his performance before diving.

2. Socialize beforehand. Introduce yourself to as many of the attendees as possible before your speech. Thank them for coming. Learn who they are and what they do. If you already know your audience, take some time to chat with colleagues. Familiarity with your listeners will help you to relax, which improves your effectiveness as a speaker.

3. Listen carefully to remember people’s names. It will increase your self-confidence, humanize your audience, and create good will. You become more personable and “one of them” when you say to a group, "Susan, what do you think?" than, "The lady in the blue suit with the big glasses has a question."

4.Develop associations when you engage in your pre-speaking networking that helps you remember people’s names. Here’s a true example. I gave a speech and afterward a woman in the audience asked for a tip about how she could remember my name – Rakow – which is pronounced Rayco. I told her to think of garden implements: a rake and a hoe. When I met her several months later, she introduced me to her friend as Dr. Garden. I learned a valuable lesson. If you are going to use mnemonics – memory techniques – to remember something, they have to be your own, not supplied by someone else.

5. Make eye contact with everyone to show confidence, courtesy and respect.

6. Smile. Smile. Smile. No matter how serious the subject matter of your presentation, a pleasant smile is an outstanding way to disarm every audience. Remember this from the moment you enter the room until you leave. You will be amazed at the difference your smile makes.

7. Be perceptive. Pay complete attention to the body language of your audience. What are they showing you? Are they attentive to your presentation? Ask questions and refer some questions to other audience members. Engage as many people as possible so that everyone feels important and significant.

8. Be creative. Take some chances. Tell personal anecdotes. Use your sense of humor. Make it fun for your audience if possible. When you laugh at yourself, you become more likable.

9. Be yourself. There is no substitute for authenticity. If a certain approach feels too forced to you, then try a different strategy that better fits your character. Follow the army’s slogan and “be the best you can be.”

10. Experience is the best teacher. Look for opportunities where you can gain experience speaking before groups – volunteer for a committee, speak at your church, coach a team, or teach a class. Join Toastmasters or other professional speaking organizations. Experience produces confidence which will help you banish your fear and ensure effective communication with any audience.

Just keep this in mind: “Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.” Spanish proverb.

© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. Rev. 2012. All rights reserved.

Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So." Readers say this book enabled them to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a must-read chapter for older workers.

Comments for How to Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

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    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      very nice tips and suggestions for perfect public speaking, thanks, voted up.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      You are fortunate indeed, Susan, not to succumb to the fear of public speaking. I'm with you on the snake thing. I prefer they keep to their own space and not invade mine. And I did have to learn the hard way the importance of regular dentist visits.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Never had a problem in this area.Got my first experience in drama club in school - loved to act out on stage! I think you either got it or you don't, but these are great tips for people who don't just "got it" but need to speak publicly. For me, honestly, the first couple of minutes in front of everyone is nervewracking, then once I survive that, it's all good. Voted up.

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      I have been a member of Toastmasters for about 10 years. Even though I have been in several competitions at various levels, I still get a little nervous, but I've learned how to cope with it. The most important thing I realized is that people don't want you to fail and they truly want you to succeed. I've learned public speaking is not about me. It is about serving my audience with the supreme desire to communicate my message.

      For those of you who are interested in overcoming your fear, I highly recommend joining a toastmasters club. They are an international organization with clubs all over the world. I've seen peoples lives change as a result of toastmasters.

      Great hub, thanks for sharing. Voting up, useful, and sharing.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Some people are natural born speakers. Others run from them. It's like having spinach in your teeth when 500 people are looking at you. You KNOW there is spinach in your teeth and that's all you can think about.

      I once sat in a front row to heckle a frenemy of mine who was doing a speech that I wanted to do. I was so mean - I ate a raw lemon in front of her. To this day, I haven't been able to eat lemons again. I don't think she missed a beat. True professionalism, eh?

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      I will never forget the 1st time I was master of ceremony at a reunion cum music concert. Though it was not 1st time of public speaking, but 1st in front of such a big audience - 500 = big for me.. (Or is 'large' applicable here?) Right at the beginning it - the monster audience - swallowed my spirit - that is how it felt for me. I've done the entire function feeling like a programmed robot. Only after the function I became myself again. Had to ask a few friends if they've noticed I was not all there. Until today I don't really know what had happened. It was one of those most horrible experiences in my life and the first and last time I played MOC for an audience larger than 200.

      To be honest, at this stage of my life I will not even load myself with the tension needed for 50.... 30... 20.... WTH, I've done my share, let some courageous spring chicken do the job while I rest my case peacefully in the audience.

      But I still fear death more....

      Unless I can die like my Aunt Babe in her sleep, and not horrified like those who were with her in the car when she fell asleep behind the wheel.... (-0-)

      Very useful hub, drbj - seconded by me all the way... :)

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I don't know, I think I'd rather stand in front of an audience and speak than be chased by a snake. Takes me a week to get geared up to go to the dentist. But that's just me.