How-To Guides

Wimp’s Guide to Public Speaking

Confidence. Savoir faire. A big smarty-pants skill set.

You could possess a maverick personality in everyday life, but stand in front of an audience and your heart races, palms sweat and the floor underneath you feels like it’s about to swallow you whole. Public speaking can undermine the best of us. The first thing to help ease your heart-pounding inner wimp is to realize you’re in an auditorium-coliseum-arena filling majority of scaredy-cats.

The People’s Almanac trumps fear of public speaking over death. More recently in Chapman University’s poll, “What American’s Fear Most,” conducted in October 2014, public speaking ranks number five, with the number one fear being “walking alone at night.”

What’s more, it even has its own name. “Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general” as defined by Wikipedia.

Call it what it is, but lots of public figures, such as billionaire investor Warren Buffett and world famous minister Joel Osteen have not been immune to the fear. In 2014, Britain’s Prince Harry revealed public speaking as his secret fear as part of a campaign to help reduce the stigma of HIV.

Whether you have to, or would like to, perform a presentation in front of a classroom, boardroom, or any other room full of thousands of eyes looking at you (at least so it seems!), and no matter what the reason is behind your glossophobia, here are 11 tips that may help you flex your wimp muscle.


1. In order to solve a problem, you need to admit to yourself that you have a problem. Identifying what’s wrong is a prerequisite. Without a problem, you have one big, fat goose egg. And, this article is not about denying or minimizing your fear, it is about facing and dealing with it.


2. The African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” can easily be applied to your inner wimp. Open up to positive, solution-driven people and form a good support network. Warning: Choose wisely. Steer clear of people who will judge you and work against you and magnify your fears.


3. Cut the saber tooth tiger to size. Assuming you’ve heard about the fight-or-flight response, realize we come from a long line of hardcore survivors. Thousands of years ago, highly charged emotional thinking was necessary for daily survival. Of course, these days most of our saber-tooth-tiger fears are irrational; certainly any ones that revolve around public speaking. You can access one of the best video clips that helps illustrate real versus perceived fear as it relates to public speaking on the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Care Center website.  Meanwhile, remember when you face your audience and your fears, cut them down to size—and picture each person wearing polka-dotted underwear, an image that will help slash the meanest roar into a whimper.


4. Know thy audience. Hopefully you are dealing with a kind, sympathetic audience and everyone’s rooting for you. If this is not the case or if you have to employ the art of persuasion, Changing has created a well thought out game plan.


5. Know thy place. There’s nothing like familiarity to tame the jitters. If the venue is at an unfamiliar location, if possible, perform a test drive to the location beforehand and scope out the room of your big debut.


6. Know thy material. This is an obvious one; here’s a Toastmaster’s trick: focus on your material and not on yourself. It makes sense, too, that the more passionate you are about your subject, the more you will forget about yourself and leave your glossophobia at the door.


7. “I can do it!” Self-talk can help “break a leg!” or break you! In fact, Osteen swears by this strategy. When he replaced his negative labels with positive ones, his public speaking fears diminished.


8. Meanwhile, Buffett enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course and so can you! You can also become a member of Toastmasters International, take a public speaking class online, or check out your local community for personal development non-credit courses.


9. While performing your presentation, breathe!


10. For those spiritually inclined, a quick pre-presentation prayer (help!) never hurts.


11. Have fun! Instead of anxiety, think Adventure! You may not get on the public speaker’s circuit; then again, that inner wimp may just surprise you!


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