Sometimes I enjoyed going school. Sometimes I did not and I had to force myself to go. Then there where were times, when I would dread having to go to school the next day. That was how I felt when I knew I had to do a presentation, public speaking, or a speech.

Do you know that feeling? When you feel worse and worse as the day nears. The day before you feel uncomfortable and as the night comes, you get more and more worrisome, maybe even having trouble sleeping.

Every time I had an upcoming presentation or a speech to do, that is how I felt. 

The emotion I felt was fear (dread, worry, anxiety, whatever form you want to call it). Fear is not a great feeling to experience. Despite presentations not being able to harm me, it didn’t matter —  those presentations (and the time leading up to them) caused me so much agony in my youth. When I was up there, in front of everyone, it felt like I was dying. My senses heightened, my voice shrieked, my self-consciousness went through the roof. I remember my 9th grade teacher even recorded us so we could self-critique. I watched my own presentation afterwards at home and writhed.

Can you relate, reader? I’m sure you can, especially if you are on this website. Actually, many people can relate to this too. In a poll of several thousand Americans, the fear of public speaking was listed as the top fear, above snakes, heights, and even death! (source)

Let me tell you though, that you can manage your fears with several tips and techniques. Many of them relate to how a clinical psychologist would help you with overcoming fears. How can you know that I actually overcame my fears? Well, you might be stunned to hear that when I attended college, about halfway through, I actually ended up telling a story in front of  my class and then a bigger class of about 100 people. And my first job out of college was a teacher, where I was speaking in front of 40 students per class! I have no natural abilities in public speaking. All I had were good methods to help me overcome my issue.


Tip #1: Practice Saying Your Speech

You CANNOT skip this step, reader. Practice is important for any skill. Without practice, you are relying on the ability to improvise or “wing it.” That is an advanced skill that many comedians and politicians are able to do, mainly because they are not overwhelmed with anxiety and their brains are able to function right on the spot.

Practice does three important things for you:

ONE: it can help you get comfortable with going through the motion and speech. Practice in front of friends or the mirror, and that helps you become more comfortable with having an audience.

TWO: it forces you to adjust your speech for errors (grammatical), timing (too long, too short), and pace (at the more advanced level, you’ll want to do more than survive your speech — you’ll want to have an impactful one!)

THREE: when you finally do the speech, you’re not doing it for the first time and you can actually have more brain power to devote to eye contact, monitoring your vocal tone, or watching the time.

Practice your speech! If you write it out and need to memorize it, then writing it will help put the words into your mouth (versus improvising). If you can read off a note, then knowing your words will allow you to look off your note sheet and at the audience. Even better– if you can, put cues/table of contents on a sheet of paper and then use that to navigate you through your speech.


Tip #2: Slowly Grow Your Audience


If you can feel comfortable in front of an audience, then you have solved fifty percent of the difficulties of public speaking! How do we go to the point, where we can feel comfortable?

For psychologists that help clients overcome fears, one of the methods they use is called “Exposure Therapy” (more). There are many parts of Exposure Therapy, but one of them is desensitization. This method exposes you to what you fear in first a very small dose, then in larger doses. For example, if you are afraid of snakes, a psychologist would probably have you do the following, in order, only moving onto the next when you feel comfortable:

  • telling you to imagine a snake
  • showing you a drawing of a snake
  • showing you an actual photo of a snake
  • showing you a video of a snake
  • having you pet a fake snake
  • having you in front of a real snake
  • having you pet a real snake

More or less, this is how you can make a person less afraid of snakes. The fear may never go away, but the objective is to allow the client to have a manageable reaction to snakes.

Back to public speaking, you can use this same method to help yourself. Let’s talk about how we might make a plan to desensitize ourselves to public speaking:

  • talk in front of a mirror
  • record yourself speaking and then watch it
  • talk in front of a friend (supportive ones)
  • talk in front of a group of friends (supportive ones) or your family members

If you can feel more comfortable with your speech, it will affect how you perform in front of your class or your REAL audience.

From there, in my opinion, it’s hard to find a gradual next step. The main ingredient we eventually need is to have strangers, but outside of going to a park and doing your speech, there may not be easy avenues to practice in front of strangers. Luckily for you, there is an amazing organization dedicated to this type of growth and practice called Toastmasters.


Tip #3: Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters International is an international nonprofit that helps people improve their presentation skills and leadership skills. “Toastmaster” comes from “toast”, as in, a small speech done at special occasions like weddings, and “master”, as in, someone really good at something.

I joined Toastmasters while I was in college. By then, I had one good speech done (a hilarious one), which when it went well and received great applause from my audience and made me want to learn how to become better at speeches. It was a lot of work having to do reading and when time comes, prepare your own speech. The environment is the best: these are strangers, but everyone is interested in the same thing you are and the environment allows for people to compliment you on what went well, but also to give you constructive criticism to help you become better (because no one’s perfect :) ).

I recommend you find a Toastmasters club near you. There should be many. Find one that meets at a time and location that suits you, then attend one meeting. If you like it, keep going. There are plenty of resources the club provides and you can always ask the other members for advice or ideas!


Last Words

Reader, best of luck with your journey. Though you may not enjoy having speeches in your class or for work, but I assure you that if you can develop some skills in this area, the presentations will go smoother, your audience will react better, and you will like it a little more. I do not expect people to start loving public speaking, but if you can get it to a point where they are manageable for you and not causing immense anxiety, that is a great long-term victory. Finally, know that if you are like me, the anxiety will never go away completely. Despite being a teacher for several years, since I stopped being one, when I have had speeches to do, I noticed myself getting anxious and needing some preparation ahead of time, with improvisation sometimes failing me. That’s life though, and I can accept it.