The Art of the Speech

Fear of Public Speaking

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re standing up in front of a crowd of a million people (but it’s more like four or five rows of desks, maybe twenty-something kids, only of which half are paying any attention to you at all), a stack of notecards in your visibly shaking hands, a slight trace of sweat on your brow, your voice with an unmistakable crack or waver every time you attempt to speak.

If that sounds like nothing you’ve ever experienced, how grand for you. For me, however, my life has been a version of this exact scenario every time I’ve had to participate in any form of public speaking, whether it be a high school presentation, gearing up to give a basic report in Speech 101 circa 2008, or my maid of honor toast at my older sister’s wedding.

Though I can come to grips and get myself together long enough to just get through it, I always falter, forget my ideas, talk to fast or too quietly. Or all of the above.

Faced with another toast challenge in coming up, I’ve not only begun to prepare my notes (oh, WEEKS in advance), but I’ve made a pact with myself to practice using the following rules. Yes, rules. Not suggestions, not good ideas. Public speaking musts.

Slow down. My biggest challenge with “give a 5 minute presentation” was even making it past minute two. When we’re nervous, we tend to transfer to warp speed, making most of what we say undecipherable to those listening in. Take a breath, take your time. It’s not too long (well, unless it is; be sure to edit), and proper spacing and annunciation gives your audience time to absorb what you’re saying while you collect your next thoughts.

Have references. You think even Obama didn’t have a few notes for his inauguration speech? What do you think the podium is for, anyway? Note cards are your best friend here. If you have to, write out (clearly) what you’re going to say. If you can wing it just a little, jot down your key points and transition lines.

Loosen up. If you can get some space to yourself directly before, or even if not, discreetly (or not) shake it out. If you’re feeling tense, it will show in your body language and the sound of your voice. Take a few soothing breaths, say something slowly and quietly to yourself like, “You can do this, piece of cake.” Simple affirmation, and nothing more.


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