How to Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking is consistently ranked as people's number one fear. But what is it about public speaking that makes it so nerve-racking? Here, a deeper look into this all-too-common fear, plus tips on how to overcome it.

People state they're terrified of public speaking because they're afraid:

  • They'll forget what to say
  • They'll say the wrong thing
  • The audience won't like them
  • They'll do something embarrassing
  • Their nerves will get the better of them or they'll panic.

In reality, none of these things are likely to happen if you prepare, practice, and persevere. 

1) Be confident. You were asked to speak because you're considered an expert and your opinion really matters. If the opportunity to speak in public is spontaneous, remind yourself that you know what you're talking about, people want to hear your point of view and they probably don't have a clue how nervous you are.

2) Get ready. Find out what's expected of you by answering these questions:

  • How long should your talk be?
  • What subject should you cover?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How big is your audience?
  • How well informed is your audience on your speaking topic?
  • Where will you be speaking?

3) Get organized. Gather all the materials you need to prepare your speech. 

  • Do your research and pick three or four main points to address. 
  • Design your speech around those main topics and create an outline.  Many speakers use some variation on a "bubble chart" to create their outline.  Try this: 

o   Get a large sheet of paper.

o   Write the main subject you'll be speaking on in the middle of the page and draw a circle around it (your bubble).

o   Draw three or four lines extending out from that circle (like the rays of the sun). 

o   Write down one talking point or idea at the end of these lines and circle them. 

o   Draw lines extending from these smaller bubbles and write down your supporting ideas for each of these sub-topics.

o   Form your speech outline by transcribing your center bubble onto a new page as your main speaking topic.  Each smaller bubble becomes one of your talking points. 

o   Depending on how long your speech needs to be, choose the best three talking points (more if you need to speak longer) and transcribe them onto your outline page.

o   Design your speech around this outline.

4) Create your speech. If you're very familiar with your topic, you may not need to write your entire speech out. You may be able to wing it from your outline. If you're worried you'll forget something important, write your speech in full. 

  • Edit thoroughly.
  • Transcribe the main ideas onto index cards with no more than a few sentences per card. Even very accomplished speakers use some type of cue card or teleprompter.

5)    Practice. Say your speech aloud several times until you feel confident you'll remember most of it. 

  • Keep your cards handy and in order. If you forget something, just look at your card - it's all there.
  • Time your speech and edit or add more if it runs too long or short.

Don't over-prepare, and plan on improvising a little. Don't speak too quickly and don't worry about little mistakes - everybody (even VIPs) makes them and they just endear the speaker to the audience. Use your sense of humor, breathe deep, and speak your mind.  Remember, you're the expert.