Three Keys to Public Speaking Success

A research study has shown that the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death.  Do you understand what that means? These statistics are telling us that there are people out in the world who would rather die than have to stand and deliver any kind of speech in public.  For many of those people it is a fear or panic reaction that is not based on their own experiences with public speaking.  Instead it is a way of thinking which causes them to believe that they do not have the skills needed and a fear that they would put themselves in an embarrassing position in front of others, if they were to try.

I am fortunate that I have found I am not one of those people.  I get nervous just like anyone else but luckily I am not overwhelmed to the point that I feel paralyzed or find it difficult to proceed.  Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with individuals who want to improve their ability to stand and deliver.  During those sessions, I always coach participants to help them find their own style and take them through practical application sessions to build their level of comfort and boost their confidence.  Out of the many things we normally address, here are three that I think are very useful in helping prospective presenters develop a mindset for success.

First and foremost, the audience is forgiving.  Most people assume that they will be speaking to groups who are waiting and ready to pounce on their every word should they not be perfect or should they not be able to answer a question immediately and fully.  It has been my experience that this is far from the case.  Usually your listeners are there to hear what you have to say, even if they are prepared to disagree with you.  If you go into the exercise with the attitude that they are open to what you have to say and if you have prepared to the best of your ability, you are more likely to be confident.

In addition, your willingness to recognize and accept that you do not have to know everything to be able to stand up and speak will further bolster your confidence.  You need to remember why you are there and stop pressuring yourself to be perfect.  Instead of trying to dazzle or impress everyone with your brilliance try to make connections.

Also be willing to accept that some people there may not agree with your message or even feel any real connection with it.  Make peace with that and it will not derail you from moving on to the next opportunity to speak.  In addition, you do not have to be perfect.  An audience is usually willing to overlook slight mistakes especially if you are not derailed by them or treat the audience callously if they point them out.

Second, stop trying to emulate the speakers you admire.  You are you and trying to talk like or sound like or act like anyone else is going to stop you from finding your own natural rhythm.  That rhythm is important.  Why?  Finding your own rhythm allows you to start to feel more comfortable with what you are doing.  Improving your comfort level allows you to feel more at ease being yourself and that is when you feel more connected to the audience and that allows them to feel more connected to you also.

I have a colleague who has recently been engaged in delivering online training.  She has admitted that when she started she felt completely ill at ease and uncomfortable doing it.  She therefore began by speaking in the very formal manner that her older, more experienced colleague was using.  For a while that allowed her to develop some sense of peace that she was doing it.  A few weeks into the process however, she realized that her discomfort with the process and her fear stemmed from the fact that she was unconsciously afraid of not being able to do what her colleague did to the same standard.  Once she realized that, she took the decision to begin speaking in her own voice and taking a more natural approach to the delivery of information.  When she starting doing that the process began to feel less stressful for her and both she and her students were able to have a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Third, you must know yourself.  If you are the kind of person who requires a written speech to be effective at delivering a presentation, accept that and do what you can to ensure that the speech is still dynamic and the papers are not distracting.  If you need a microphone or a podium, then ask for one.  You want to be aware of your own needs to ensure that you are comfortable enough to create an enjoyable experience for your audience.  Always be aware of what you are doing with your body and your voice.  This awareness helps you to minimize or eliminate the distractions that could otherwise diminish the impact of your message.

There is no one perfect way to do presentations.  There is only the way that works best for getting a message across to an audience.  For that to be most successful, it requires an understanding of the audience, the presenter and the message.  While it is not expected that after reading this you will immediately lose your fear of public speaking, it is hoped that these tips will help you to change your mind-set about having to speak in public.

What will help you to significantly reduce that fear is the real bad news for most people.  If you truly want to reduce the fear of speaking in public and making presentations, the only way to accomplish that is to make presentations and speak in public and to do so repeatedly.  The more you are able to use your skills, the better you become.  If you are able to get someone to observe you and give you feedback, that will help you even more.

Your fear may never completely go away but eventually you will come to the point where you no longer allow it to have the power to derail your efforts.  It becomes more like a part of the preparation process and begins to feel just like excited anticipation.  I am always thrilled when I see the transformation in people who begin the process thinking only of what they cannot do and leave the sessions amazed and happy at what they have accomplished.

So go forth, practice, speak up and speak often.


Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance.  She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados.  For more of her writing visit



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