Fear of public speaking

21 Tips For Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. ~Jerry Seinfeld

Can you relate to Jerry Seinfeld’s famous joke about fear of public speaking?

Public speaking fear is widespread, and most people live their entire lives never conquering it.

For some the thought of speaking in public is so paralyzing they avoid the experience at all costs. However, they miss a wonderful opportunity to impact others and improve their own self confidence.

I struggled for years to overcome two gripping fears in my life. Number one is the fear of heights and secondly the fear of speaking in public. On one occasion my anxiety was so intense before a scheduled high school speech, I ran to the bathroom to vomit.

Fear of public speakingWhat was at the root of this anxiety about speaking to my classmates? I feared embarrassment and judgement because I was not confident I would deliver a great performance.

British Prime minister Winston Churchill was one of the top-rated public speakers and regarded as the most powerful orator of the twentieth century. His style is not my favorite, but one of his secrets to being a great speaker was in his relentless preparation. Churchill devoted one hour of research and rehearsal for every one minute he would speak in public. So for a 20 minute speech he would prepare 20 hours.

This dedication to preparation is one of the most important aspects of being able to quiet your fears and anxiety before speaking. I know because I’ve tested both minimal preparation and  massive preparation, and guess which one bombs more frequently in public speaking?

We’ll talk about how to create a great topic for your speech in a different post.

Below are 21 Public Speaking Tips To Overcome Your Fear of  Speaking.

1. Pitch. Explore and expand your vocal range, taking your voice lower and higher.  This helps build a dramatic tension in your speech. Think of your pitch like musical notes. Many public speakers only have a range of 3 to 4 musical notes. Some speakers use only one — the infamous, sleep-inducing monotone speaker. It may feel awkward at first but practice to extend your vocal range higher and lower.

2. Rate. Most speakers rush their presentations due to nervousness and the desire to just get it over with so they can sit down and feel relief. The rush of adrenaline is real but does not lead to a captivating speech. Slow down and don’t rush something that is meant to impact the audience.

3. Pause. Too often speakers use distracting filler words, such as “um’s” and “ah’s.” Using a pause between major points and questions gives both the speaker and the audience time to think. It may feel awkward at first, but use the pause to let your points sink in for the listener.

4. Volume. Give thought to your speaking voice and your speaking venue. Observe how dinner party volume levels differ from those used at a loud music venue. Of course you’ll need to speak louder to a larger group and room (unless you have a mic). One tip in gauging your volume is to use the five x approach. Before you speak, estimate the number of people in the room and then multiply that number times five. That’s how many people your speaking volume should address.

5. Grammar.  Connection with your audience is the goal. Good grammar is always right, but don’t be so restricted that you can’t step down to the level of your audience. Your love of language and desire to be authentic should supersede your need to be a polished grammarian.

6. Questions.  Questions are a powerful speaking tool to engage your audience. Questions encourage audience participation and discourage a lecture mode for the speaker. Rhetorical questions are useful when you don’t want people to answer out loud or raise their hand.

7. Quotes. Using quotes builds your credibility and captivates your audience. Quoting someone from the audience you’re speaking to is a big crowd-pleaser. Try memorizing your quotes so you don’t have to read them from your notes.

8. Enunciate. Work hard to clearly articulate each word. Over-rehearse words that give you difficulty or that you tend to mispronounce. In ancient Greece, Demosthenes was the greatest orator, but he had to overcome a speech impediment he had since birth. It is believed he placed small pebbles in his mouth to practice enunciating his words.

9. Move around. It may be safer to stand still — but don’t. Move around the stage as it captivates the audience and keeps them alert. Walk, stomp, jump, squat, lie down, run, stumble, trip and fall, go into the audience — anything, but do not stand still behind a podium.

10. Statistics. Audiences like statistics. When you present clear and uncomplicated statistics, it will increase the retention of the listener. When statistics are explained and interpreted well, a few dramatic numbers can help punctuate your point.

11. Props. The use of props can be another powerful tool to engage your audience. Props are especially helpful with visual and kinesthetic learners in your audience.

12. Humor. Don’t build your speech around humor, but add humor to loosen up the crowd and to open them up to your points. As comedian Victor Borge reminds, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

13. Call backs.  A “call back” is a comedy term that means “calling back” to an earlier laugh line in a routine, referring to an earlier joke that worked. Skilled public speakers use call backs too. You can weave your opening statement throughout your speech, and then use it again at the end of the speech for a dramatic close to your message.

14. Editing. Go over your first draft of your speech eliminating all of the unnecessary words and phrases that limit the power of your presentation. Same speech + fewer words = more engaging.

15. Water. Stay hydrated before you speak. Coffee and tea are diuretics and will send you to the restroom. Milk creates mucous in your throat. Soda will cause you to belch. Take a bottle of room temperature water (ice water constricts vocal chords) to the podium when you speak.

16. Smile. This is the most powerful non-verbal gesture. You can almost always smile, even in a serious speech. It will always facilitate a connection with your audience. Your smile invites your audience to join your positive and happy energy.

17. Eye contact. Don’t follow the old school speech teachers tip to focus your vision at the back of the room, over the heads of the crowd. Look at members of your audience and make eye contact. You may feel more nervous thinking about making eye contact — but just do it. If you incorporate all of these speaking tips and don’t make eye contact, the impact of your speech will suffer.

18. Spontaneity. Practice for those spontaneous ad-lib moments. Anticipate and visualize what might happen and have a prepared response. The lights may flicker, a microphone glitch, a dinner plate breaks — all of which you’ve anticipated and have a fun and quick response for. As Mark Twain so humorously remarked, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

19. Notes.  Always bring your notes with you. Because you’re so rehearsed and prepared, you may never even look at them. But just in case, it’s best to have them on hand.

20. Attire. Look professional, polished, and like the expert. You’ll feel better about yourself as you stand in front of the crowd. Don’t be reckless with your image, but rather wear your best clothes that match the setting and event.

21. Impact. Most people think the entire impact of a speech comes down to the words used. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus at UCLA and expert in non-verbal communication,  we are impacted more by non-verbal communication than spoken words. Here are the results of Dr. Mehrabian’s study on communication and what impacts us most:

  • Words=7%
  • Tone of Voice=38%
  • Non-verbals=55%.

Non-verbals like hand gestures, how you stand, body language, facial expressions, pauses and timing have more impact than your words. This is where you’ll need to practice in front of a mirror or video tape yourself to get feedback on your use of non-verbals. These non-verbal communication skills are the most important elements in your speech.  They can elevate your self-confidence and help you overcome your fear of public speaking.


Now that you know 21 new strategies for improving your public speaking skills, how do YOU feel about making a speech? What public speaking experiences have you had that made you feel confident or that added to your fear? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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