Find Your Voice: Overcoming your fear of public speaking

There is no doubt that communicating by email, twitter, facebook or a blog are powerful ways to create visibility and a platform from which to build your business.  However, there is another marketing tool which can really help you stand out in a crowded marketplace; public speaking.    In business today you need an edge.  Finding your voice can give you more than just an edge, it will help move your business into a different league.

However, what do you do, if standing in front of a group abosolutely fills you with terror? I work with clients who fall apart just at the thought of standing up in front of an audience.  In a list of top 10 fears, a fear of public speaking usually sits at the top, even beating out a fear of drowning.

I have been there.  I feel your pain. Panic attacks, sleepless nights, visions of terror used to be par for the course every time I was asked to stand up in front of a group and present.

But rather than hiding away, it’s an important skill to learn.  Good speaking skills can make all the difference when you are attending networking events.  Some networking groups require you to stand up and deliver a 60 second presentation about your business (no pressure there then!).  This can feel intimidating. But  you’ll find that once you have had a few goes at it, received some good constructive feedback, it can actually be incredibly liberating!  It can bring out the story teller in you, the actor or actress in you, and yes, dare I say it, the comic in you!

Like anything, public speaking is a skill that takes practice… and the only way to get practice is to get out there and do it.  However, there are some easy ways to get started that won’t make you freeze up.  I have noticed from attending BNI groups, that the people that were the best communicators were the ones who were most natural when speaking about their business.  I decided I was going to find a way to master this skill.  Here’s what worked for me and I hope will work for you.

1:   Invest in your voice.

Join Toastmasters International.   Toastmasters International is a non-profit worldwide organisation that helps and supports people to master their communication, leadership, and speaking skills.  You can visit their website and find a club near to you or even start one up.  That’s what I had to do in 2003 as there were no Toastmaster Clubs in Yorkshire/Humberside at that time.  I was terrified and at first did not know how a Toastmaster Club worked, however with a few colleagues we managed to establish one of the most successful clubs in the UK.  Having a place to go on a regular basis to hone your speaking skills with like minded people is invaluable.  Whether it is a wedding speech, a pitch to a blue chip client, or a motivational speech to a large audience.  Being able to go through your content and get good constructive feedback can take you from abject fear to absolute joy in delivering your message.  Learning to formulate, express and deliver your message with poise and confidence is the difference that makes the difference.   Toastmasters International teach you the ABC’s of public speaking and the PSA (Professional Speakers Association) can take you to the next level of professional public speaking.

2:   Get rid of the Beliefs and Behaviours that cause fear

Many of our fears about public speaking come about due to irrational and unjustified thoughts, which, if we let them, can stop us in our tracks.   Do any of these resonate with you?

  • I don’t have the natural ability to become a speaker
  • I may make a mistake and I want to be perfect
  • Only confident people make good speakers
  • I panic as soon as I get in front of an audience
  • I may forget my words and dry up mid sentence
  • I would be too embarrassed to stand up in front of a group
  • I remember reading in class at school and I made a mistake and everyone laughed at me

The interesting thing is that it is not the speaking that is the problem but the FEELING that goes with it.  Cognitive therapy can be incredibly powerful as a way to counteract these messages.  Turning the negative statement into a positive one will start you on the road to becoming more comfortable speaking in front of a group.  For for the statement, “I don’t have the natural ability to become a speaker”, turn that into “I’m new to public speaking, but with the right practice, I can be great at this” or “Only confident people make good public speakers” turn this into “I’ll become more confident speaking in public every time I do it”.  Identify your statements and write an equal and opposite positive response and read it every time that ugly and incorrect thought enters your head.

3:  Plan – 90% of a good presentation revolves around planning

The easiest way to decrease your anxiety is to know your audience, research your topic, prepare a good outline and then follow it.  One way to prepare is to write your presentation, write it again and then rehearse.   For me being a visual person mind maps and vision boards are my preferred preparation tools.   However, there is no right or wrong way to prepare. Do what feels best for you, but never under estimate the power of good preparation.   The audience does not know your content and won’t know if you miss a chunk of it out on the day.

4:  Your body speaks

It is said that communication is 7% words, 38% voice quality, and 65% body language.   This illustrates that 93% of our communication is non-verbal.   It is clear that we cannot NOT communicate.  Body language is an important part of speaking because it enhances your message  giving you more credibility.  It also helps relieve any nervousness you may feel.  Stance, movement, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact all help communicate your message.  Your body language needs to be congruent with the message your listeners hear.

5:  Practice …. Practice ….Practice

Learning to become a confident speaker is like learning to swim.  You can watch people swim, read about it, listen to people talk about it, but if you don’t get into the water you’ll never learn.  Take every opportunity to speak and promote yourself and your business.   Get comfortable with visual aids which are appropriate for your message and your audience.  If you are using a laptop or any electronic equipment make sure you can use it properly and are well prepared should it not work on the day.

6:   Focus on a friendly face

Every time you speak there is always at least one person who is smiling, looking at you or nodding in agreement.  Keep your eyes on them until you feel relaxed.  Making eye contact is important as it creates rapport with your audience.

7: Visualise the audience in their underwear!

A professional speaker gave me this tip in the early days of my speaking journey and I have never forgotten it.  It immediately calmed my fears, made me smile, and made me realise that everyone is just a person like myself.  I have used it many a time when the butterflies have been fluttering out of control.  We all get butterflies when presenting, however the trick is getting them to fly in formation.

8:  Visualise a Successful Presentation:

Picture the opening, body and the close.  Play the presentation over in your mind fully, from walking in the room, meeting the delegates, your introduction and your presentation.  Step by step, picture yourself presenting confidently with everyone smiling, laughing at your humour, applauding at appropriate times and then coming up afterwards and congratulating you on a job well done.

9:  Be yourself

Create your own style, be yourself.  Trying to be someone else when you are presenting can just increase your nervousness and give you something else to worry about.

10:  Get to the venue early if possible

Get to your venue early and practice using electronic equipment.  Give yourself time to run through your presentation and ensure there are no glitches.  Practice and preparation will give you the the confidence to continue if your equipment does not work properly.  By being early, you can check out the room get comfortable with it, make any adjustments that are necessary, practice your presentation and get to know some of the participants.


If you have any tips and tricks for public speaking we’d love to hear them in the comments section below.  We’re here to help, so if there is anything standing in the way of you Standing Up and Standing Out pop in in a comment below and we’ll see if we, or any of our readers, have any further solutions for you.


Margaret Abraham

Hi, I am Margaret Abraham. I am an experienced Life Coach, Trainer and Emotional Health Consultant. My passion is people, how and why they do what they do. My mission is to encourage them to embrace change, learn techniques for managing their emotions and behaviours. There are times when we feel discouraged by where we find ourselves. Despite our best intentions we look around and realise that we are not where we would like to be. In these moments it is easy to feel as though we are personally lacking some necessary elements of success. One of the things we can do is to reframe our disappointment and move from frustration to conscious creation.

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.