Public Speaking: How to Manage the Fear, Part 2

The most important action you can take to manage the fear of public speaking is the unseen mental preparation, the inner game.

The Inner Game

1.      Know Your Audience

If you are not familiar with your audience, you will need to do a little research.  For my professional speaking presentations, I will conduct 3-10 informational interviews with audience members, often from different functional areas.  What do they value?  What fears or challenges do they have?  What experiences have shaped them?  In the process of getting to know my audience, I would begin to almost fall in love with them.

2.      Mentally Focus on Giving the Audience a Gift

Changing my focus from me to them was what made the biggest difference for me in managing my fear.  I began to see my presentations as a gift I was giving to the audience.  I was giving them a gift that could help them change for the positive what they might think, feel or do.  My fear started to turn to excitement.  Like a mother who can’t wait for her children to open their birthday gifts that she had carefully selected just for them, I couldn’t wait for my audience to receive the gift of my presentation.

3.      Know Your Material

This is standard advice and still very important!  You must know your material and I don’t mean that you must memorize it.  Don’t memorize.  Internalize.  Be so familiar with your material that you can talk with friends about it easily.  Also, know more than you would ever tell in a presentation.  That way if you happen to forget something (and you will) you have extra material to access.  Plus, remember that your audience doesn’t know if you forgot something.  As far as they know, the way you give a speech is how you intended to give it.

4.      Accept the Fear

I call this radical acceptance.  Don’t condemn or berate yourself for having fear or having visible nervous symptoms.  Allow it to just be.  And allow yourself to be aware of the fear as you are speaking—it’s there, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you.  You have the power to choose how to deal with it.  Think about how you would treat someone you love with the same fear and treat yourself the same.

5.      Give up Perfectionism.

Striving for perfection is healthy and admirable.  Expecting achievement of perfection as the only acceptable outcome ensures that every performance will be a failure.  The unreasonable and unrealistic expectation of perfection creates the kind of tension that causes people to “choke.”  To err is definitely human and in fact, our imperfections are what make us authentic and relatable.

6.      Ask yourself—“What’s the Worst That Can Happen?”

Sometimes fear can grow out of proportion to actual consequences.  If you know what you are afraid of, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” if what you fear comes to pass.  And then, mentally plan with how you will deal with it.  Let’s say you are afraid your hands are going to shake when you speak—what’s the worst that can happen?  People might think you are nervous?  You might drop your notes?  Whatever “the worst” is for you, address it.  So what if people think you are nervous, is that so bad?  If you drop your notes, what will you do?  Will you have them numbered so that they will be easy to reorder?

7.      Visualize Success

What you focus on will be what you get. Think about what you want, not about what you don’t want.    I’ve noticed that in my son’s soccer games that all too often when a player is trying to make a goal, they seem to kick the ball right at the goalie.  They should kick where the goalie isn’t, but instead focus on the goalie.  Similarly don’t focus on all the negative that might happen, because you will be programming yourself negatively.  Focus and visualize the optimum situation:  an attentive audience and you as a confident speaker.  Visualize how you will move and look as the speaker you want to be.

 8.      Meditate/Pray/Self-Hypnotize

The calming effects of meditation, prayer and self-hypnosis are well-documented.  All three involve settling the mind and often result in a calming, deep breathing pattern which is the opposite of how you feel when you are afraid.

 9.      Consider outside help

If you still feel debilitating fear after trying some of the above techniques, you might want to enlist the help of a professional.  There are mental health professionals and practitioners of other calming or behavioral modification techniques that can assist you in managing your fear.

Next week: How to manage the fear: The Outer Game

Public Speaking: How to Manage the Fear, Part 1

I am not going to tell you how to overcome the fear of public speaking.  Instead, I am going to offer suggestions on how to manage the fear so that it is not debilitating.

If you try too hard to suppress the symptoms of speaking anxiety—the shaky hands, the red face, the stiff or jerky body movements, the dry mouth, the trembling voice—you can end up in a vicious cycle that only worsens your anxiety and increases the expression of nervous symptoms.   It can lead to an overwhelming sense of dread that can hinder you personally and professionally.  You can break out of the vicious cycle, find your voice and speak with increasing confidence.

First, realize you are not alone.  The fear of public speaking is famously widespread.   And it can occur at all levels of speaking, from beginner to professional.   Recently, I sat in the front row during a well-paid professional speaker’s presentation and noticed that his hands shook as he spoke.  Nobody really seemed to care.

Second, realize there are actions that you can take to manage the fear.  Action is the antidote to fear. If you want to play the game, you have to act. There is both an inner game and an outer game in a winning presentation.  Did you catch on to the sports metaphor?  If you are sports-minded, you can apply many of the same performance techniques to giving a speech.  You might even consider “Cross training” your fear by becoming involved in a sport (or a creative endeavor) that has a performance component.

For several years, in my 40’s, I was involved in karate. As part of the class we occasionally had to practice our forms “tournament style” in which we simulated tournament competition.  We would introduce ourselves to the group and perform our forms individually.  At first I dreaded it.  My heart would race and my breathing would quicken just before it was my turn.  And then, I would hold my breath during the form.  My face would turn as red as a baboon’s bottom! I was afraid of making a mistake and looking stupid.  I knew that even my best performance was a far cry from perfection.  Over time it became easier.  After a few months, I was hardly nervous at all when we did “tournament style.”  Part of the reason was repetition—of being regularly exposed to that which caused fear.  The other part was the inner and outer games I played with myself to manage that fear.  Many of the same techniques can be applied to managing the fear of public speaking.

Next week:  The Inner Game of Managing Your Public Speaking Fear


Digging Up Stories: Ask Questions


A great way to dig up stories that could be used as speech material is to ask yourself some questions.  You can also ask other people these questions (great for interviewing older family members or retiring employees). Here are a few to get you started:

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

What did you enjoy doing the most as a child?

If your childhood ambitions changed, when was that and why?

What was your inspiration for starting your present career or business?

Was there a specific “aha” moment?

Did you face rejection? What were the obstacles?  How did you overcome them?

Who helped you along the way?

Ask interesting questions and get interesting answers!

Help Me Write a Book on Public Speaking

Would you like to have input into a book on public speaking? What are the things you really want to know?  What do you wish you knew earlier?

I’m actually thinking of getting a quick Kindle book out in about a week or so using mostly a selection of my 2012 speaking tips that you have been reading in this blog.  Yes, I did say I was thinking of writing and publishing a book in about a week.  Which means I really need any input that you can provide by Monday!

Why would you want to help me?

1. You like me.
2. You want to have input into a book on public speaking.
3. You’d like to see your name in print in the acknowledgement section.
4. You will get a free copy of the book (pdf format to download).  And, I’ll let you know when I do a 5-day free promotion on Amazon, so you can download to your Kindle reader for free, too!

My intended readers would be people like you–Toastmasters, business professionals, conference presenters, aspiring professional speakers.


The above picture is my planned bookcover-I wanted something a little different looking than all the other public speaking books, and, well, I love cats.   I was inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw.

What specifically do I want from you? Pick any or all of the following:

1. Input on the content–what else should I write about? (I plan on also incorporating input into the remaining blogs for the year)
2. Quote from you on how the advice in this blog made a difference for you–for inclusion on a testimonial page.
3. Review on Amazon after the book is published.

If you can, I need #1 or #2 by Monday. 

Thank you for your input!

Digging Up Stories: Highs and Lows Graph

Another way to recall stories, is to draw a “Highs and Lows” graph, or as David Sibbet discusses in his book, Visual Meetings, Peak and Valley Experiences.

Decide on a time period (your whole life, a year) and draw a horizontal time line across the middle of a blank sheet of paper.  Then mark off time segments and graph and label the high and low experiences of your life.  Do you see a pattern?  Do you notice that in life you are generally heading toward a high point, or a low point, sometimes with greater speed or greater severity?

Are stories coming to mind?  As you were at a high or low point, or heading out of one, did you learn some lessons?