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Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

February 10, 2014

Q: Hey dad, could you give me some tips on giving a good presentation? I have this assignment for a class and I have to make a 10-minute speech. Not my thing, as you know, daddio.


A: I have three very talented children, all in different ways. My college-girl daughter Sydney is a naturally gifted writer (better than her dad for sure), but public speaking is not her bag. Over the years, she has learned to do it, but still does not like it much, and often gets very nervous before giving a presentation.

Of course, she is not alone. Consider these top 5 fears that people have, courtesy of

5. Fear of heights – 11%
4. Fear of darkness – 12%
3. Fear of spiders – 13%
2. Fear of death – 16%
1. Fear of public speaking – 19%

None other than Jerry Seinfeld has a great joke about this: After stating that more people fear public speaking than death itself, he deadpans, “In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

Personally, I love to speak in public, and in fact make it one of my main profit centers. Whether it is a keynote before a business audience, a seminar for entrepreneurs, or a webinar for small business people, I find speaking to business audiences be exciting and fun. 

So what I would like to do today is share what I have learned along the way, both from my own speaking gigs, as well as from the gifted speakers and speaking coaches with whom I have worked:

1. Chunk it down: Think about what you want to say and the break it down, outline it even. In the end, you probably have three or four main points that you will want to get across. Create each idea as a separate section of the overall speech, and treat each one as its own little speech. 

When I write a book, I start with the big idea, and then break it into chapters, each chapter representing a different idea that supports the overall idea of the book. If I thought only about the big picture, the whole book, it would be overwhelming. But individual chapters are workable.

Chunking it down is what works, like I just did here, see?

2. Over-prepare. Notice I didn’t say “Prepare.” No matter what type of presentation you need to give – whether it is a sales pitch, or a Rotary speech, or a class presentation, of course you will be prepare. 

La de da.

Preparation is not enough, especially if public speaking is not your thing. What seems to work best for most people is over-preparation. If you are giving a PowerPoint, know your slides down pat. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Practice, and practice some more, and then practice some more. Knowing, really knowing, your speech will do more to ease jitters than almost anything else. And also, all of that practice will help you iron out any kinks in the presentation, and it is far better to do that at home than in front of that big client.

All this said, over-preparation does not mean reading a speech you wrote. Memorize your main points, jokes and so on, of course, but having some extemporaneousness to it usually works best.

3. Tell stories: People love stories, and love to listen to stories. Stories engage the audience. So, 1) think of some good stories you can tell that personalize the points you want to make, and 2) think of the overall speech as one big story, with a beginning, middle, and end.

4. Visualize: Take a few quiet minutes for the week leading up to the big speech to see it working out just great in your mind’s eye. Watch the movie in your head of you nailing it. Most importantly – make yourself feel the feelings you would feel as you succeed. Feel excited as you watch this movie. Fee confident. See people smiling, laughing at your jokes, nodding in agreement with your points. 

It works.

5. Breathe: Right before you start, take a deep breath. Call it a dramatic pause, whatever. 

Don’t worry if you are nervous, we all get a little nervous before a speech. The trick is to use that energy for you instead of having it work against you. If you notice it, nervousness is just about the same feeling as excitement, so channel that energy positively, into excitement, instead of letting it instinctively be channeled negatively, into nervousness.

6. Be yourself: We’ve all heard it before, but it bears repeating: You will do your best work if you don’t try and copy someone else’s style. Be yourself. Let your personality shine through. 

Finally, give yourself a break. You don’t have to be perfect. Don’t worry if you flub a line. Smile and keep going and knock it out of the park. 

Today’s tip: And, by the way, if you are using PowerPoint, DO NOT load up your slides with verbiage and bullet points that you will read. Critical error. Here is a great book that you should check out that explains why: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo. Jobs famously had almost no words in his decks, just pictures. Among other things, that forces people to concentrate on you and what you are saying, and not on your PowerPoint.

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