Tips for Shy Public Speakers

by Thomas Metcalf

Public speaking is high on many people's list of scary activities. Standing in front of an audience and looking at expectant faces in the crowd puts fear in the hearts of many. If you are naturally shy, the fear can turn to terror. While public speaking may not be natural for you, there are steps you can take to understand and conquer your fear.

Fight or Flight

Until a few thousand years ago, no one worried about public speaking. Our ancient ancestors were more concerned with staying out of harm’s way. Physiological reactions were all developed to put the body into high gear to react as the occasion required. While that may have been good when confronting a wooly mammoth, it is not good when standing on a podium. A racing heart beat, rapid breathing, adrenalin rush and other reactions all happen to create an energy burst. Understanding that these are natural reactions is the first step in conquering stage fright. In other words, don't be too concerned that you're nervous. Just about everyone is, and it's perfectly natural.

Confront Your Fears

Barring the presence of wooly mammoths in your audience, there is no reason to expect any harm from anyone listening to you speak. Instead of focusing on them, analyze your own fears. These might include the fear of sounding rattled or forgetting your speech. List your fears, then review them and address each item. Virtually every one will be something you can influence. Next to each fear, write down what you can do to control it. For example, if you are afraid of boring your audience, work on changing your cadence and pitch to bring more energy and variety into your speech. Taking control of your fears is an important step in overcoming them.

Make Positive Steps

Hone your speaking skills by joining Toastmasters. There are local chapters everywhere, and their members are just like you -- people who want to overcome their fear of public speaking and polish their skills. You will have the opportunity to speak frequently and your audience will provide support and advice. If you have the chance to speak to your Toastmasters club, business team or church group, do so. This will let you practice in front of small audiences you know.

Prepare to Speak

Take positive steps to hone your skills and improve your confidence. Practice your speech to the point that you are comfortable with the words and the flow. You probably do not want to memorize it, because if you forget a couple of words you may lose your place and panic. Instead, work to remember the order of your key points and let the words take care of themselves. No one knows your speech but you, so if you stray from your prepared words, no one will be the wiser. Refocus your fears into excitement by repeating positive affirmations. “I’ll forget my speech” becomes “I have practiced and am well prepared.” The more you practice, the more relaxed and confident you will become.

About the Author

Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.

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