6 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

Photo by  Teemu Paananen  on  Unsplash

You know that giving keynotes and putting on workshops at conferences are great ways for you to boost your credibility and generate new business. But if you're scared to death of public speaking, take comfort in this: You're definitely not alone.

Forty million Americans are so terrified of speaking to a group that they'd do almost anything to avoid it. In fact, according to an oft-cited study released in 1993 by Brushkin-Goldring, more people said they feared public speaking than feared death.

(A more recent 2014 Washington Post article references a Chapman University survey on American fears that puts public speaking at the top of the list of America’s biggest phobias.)

Why do people clam up? The primary reason, according to the late Lilyan Wilder, author of 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking, is that many people dread feeling isolated when they are the focal point in the room.

"If you're seated—especially if you're behind a table—you have protection. You're on an equal basis with the people you're speaking to around the table," said Wilder in an interview for an article I wrote for Entrepreneur magazine several years ago. "But when you stand up, the pressure's on: You've got to be the leader. You've got to show the way. Then you suddenly feel the palpitations, you get short of breath, your hands may shake and knees buckle."

How can you overcome the fear of public speaking to accomplish your sales and marketing goals? Here are six tips:

1. Do what you fear—and do it often.

If your problem is speaking in public, tackle it head on. Try to speak at as many public venues as you possibly can until you dominate that fear. When you do, you'll find that people are really there to hear from you and learn from what you have to say.

If you’re looking for a good place to build your speaking chops, consider joining your local Toastmasters group. This organization has been around for over 100 years providing a supportive learning environment to help professionals at any level to become more adept at public speaking.

2. Take stock of your assets.

On a sheet of paper or in your favorite note-taking app, write down the reasons why you think your story should (or must) be told and why you're the best person to communicate that information. This exercise will boost your confidence when you feel most intimidated.

3. Start in a low-risk environment.

Build your confidence by speaking regularly to smaller, more sympathetic audiences before taking on a high-stakes speech.

Offer to give speeches for free at your local civic and business organizations, such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist Club, Chamber of Commerce, and so forth. These are relatively “safe” environments to practice the craft of developing and delivering a good speech.

And these venues give you the opportunity to market test and hone your ideas before you share them in higher-profile situations.

While practice does not always make perfect, it will make you a more effective—and less fearful—speaker.

4. Put your fear in perspective.

Which is more terrifying to you—giving a speech in front of 50 people or not fulfilling your sales goals (because you turned down an important speaking opportunity out of fear)?

How will giving in to this fear affect your income and future business prospects?

Put a dollar amount on what you stand to lose if you allow the fear of public speaking to hold you back.

Is it worth the price?

5. Focus on serving your audience.

Take your focus off of yourself—which causes fear—and place it on serving your audience.

See my article “Love: The Key to Open Your Customers’ Hearts (and Change Their Minds)” for practical tips on how to put this idea into practice.  

6. Study the craft to boost your confidence.

Need a major confidence boost before you give your next talk? These books offer the encouragement and practical tips you need to speak with poise and persuasion:

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide To Public Speaking by Chris Anderson

The Quick and Easy Way To Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie

Resonate: Present Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte

Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun

Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation by Brian Tracy.

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs increase sales and recruit talent through storytelling.

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