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So You Want To Be A Public Speaker?

If you're going to stand up and speak in front of a roomful of people, you are probably going to be nervous. If you're not, it means that you're either a very experienced public speaker, not fully aware of the speaking situation, or just plain out of it.

So why does just the thought of speaking in public make so many people nauseous?

It's natural to want to make a positive impression on other people. People go to great lengths to make a good impression on others, from taking classes in speech, manners, and presentation skills to shopping for the right outfits and even undergoing plastic surgery. Billions of dollars are spent every year on products and services to help us look and sound better in front of our peers. And to make things worse, the media is constantly featuring attractive people who look and sound remarkably at ease in front of the camera.

Speaking in public emphasizes those feelings of wanting to make a good impression. We feel our own insecurities being magnified, and we are keenly aware of being judged. In addition, we want to sound intelligent, poised, and professional as we definitely don't want to make fools of ourselves. With all of that at stake, it's no wonder we are so scared of speaking in public.

But yet, thousands of people get up and speak in front of others every day. How is that possible if we have so much to lose? It's easy to do-simply change your way of thinking. Of course, that's easier said than done. However, if you change your attitude from "What if I make a fool of myself?" to "What if I really do well?" you're already on the right path to a more positive mindset.

It's amazing how many people will dwell on the potential negative scenarios in contrast to how few will visualize people walking up to them after their speech or presentation and saying, "Nice job" or "I really enjoyed your talk." The thought of impending disaster overshadows the potential positive feeling of a job well done. If a baseball player visualized striking out more often than rounding the bases, he probably never would have stuck with the sport. Why not put the same positive imagery to work for yourself?

If you stop and think about it, you'll probably find that 99 percent of the public speaking engagements that you have been to have gone just fine. The question isn't whether the speakers were great orators, but simply how many met with disaster. For the vast majority of speakers, their clothes didn't suddenly fall off, birds didn't swoop down and take away their notes, and they didn't forget their speech (and even if a speaker missed a line or two, or ten, chances are you didn't even know it). It's safe to say that you probably cannot remember a real public speaking disaster that you've seen.

The key to successful public speaking is preparation. If you are confident that you know your material and can clearly explain it to the mirror or to a friend or colleague, then most likely you are ready to speak. At that point, the number of people watching or listening should not matter. Your presentation is ready, and you're ready. The audience will enjoy, appreciate, be entertained by, or be educated by what you have to say. And, if not, that's no longer your concern-you've done your part. You cannot control your surroundings, but once you are well prepared and have rehearsed, you can get up there and speak with confidence.

We tend to think that the audience is 100 percent focused on how we look and what we have to say. But the truth is that unless you're giving the State of the Union address or accepting an Academy Award, all eyes and ears typically do not remain on you as you speak. In fact, surveys have shown that audience members usually remember very little of a speech or presentation. At least a few of the people in the front rows have to go to the bathroom and are wondering how they can get out without being noticed.

A good number of the people in the middle rows are half listening and half daydreaming, while the people in the back rows can't see you very well and are busy studying the people in the seats around them. So, in other words, no one is 100 percent focused on you. If, in fact, you do so well up there as to make them forget their other concerns, then you have succeeded beyond your wildest hopes. If not, you've simply succeeded in delivering your message.

The old saying "You are your own worst critic" is especially appropriate when it comes to public speaking. It is mainly what is going on in our own minds that make us so nervous about speaking in public.

It is well known that many famous speakers and performers such as Winston Churchill and Carly Simon had stage fright. Yet they rose to the occasion and channeled that fear in a way that helped them give a stellar speech or performance. You too can channel your nervous energy through positive imagery and think, "I'm going to wow them."



Planning and preparing for any type of public speaking engagement can make a world of difference. Very few speakers can truly wing it. The better you know your topic and the better prepared you are to present it, the more comfortable you will feel. The fear of making a fool of yourself will greatly diminish as you gain confidence in your ability to present the subject matter. You may even come to look forward to speaking in public.


Architects have blueprints, chefs have recipes, and teachers have lesson plans. Speakers too should have some kind of plan whether it be an outline, an overview, or a summary in whatever form makes you most comfortable.

Presentations will vary greatly depending on the audience, subject matter, and occasion. Someone making a toast at a wedding reception, a person making a presentation in front of the board of directors, and someone conducting an orientation for new college students are going to be taking very different approaches.

Before you begin planning your presentation, you need to ask yourself two questions:

1. Why are you speaking?

2. To whom will you be speaking?

Later we'll look more closely at different types of speaking engagements.



So, just what is your reason for speaking?

  • To persuade
  • To inform
  • To resolve a problem
  • To entertain
  • To debate
  • To motivate
  • To demonstrate
  • To honor, pay tribute to, or present an award to someone
  • To introduce or welcome someone or something
  • To accept an honor or award

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