Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

Do you freeze in fear the instant you have to give a speech? Take heart. Practice can make perfect

Credit: iStockphoto / nullplus

Use your body to interact with the audience when public speaking

If public speaking strikes fear into your heart, there’s a club for that

Karen Knight, a member of the Victoria branch of Toastmasters, remembers the exact reason she first joined that club. “Fear,” she said by phone one day. “Absolute and debilitating fear. I had to do a presentation at work and I was just terrified.”

Toastmasters: A Club for Reluctant Speakers

Toastmasters clubs across BC and around the world have been catering to the speaking scared since the organization originated in 1924.

For less than $20 a month, you get the chance to practice speaking in public until the terror subsides.

How to Give a Fearless Speech

Here’s what Toastmasters teaches:

  1. Know your topic. “If you know what you’re talking about, you’re more comfortable with it. It’s hard to throw you,” explains Knight.
  2. Just breathe. “Make a point of stopping and breathing.” Neophytes might hasten to fill a silence but, as she points out, “dead air is OK.”
  3. Stand up. If you can walk around with a lapel or hand-held mike, so much the better. “You need to use your body to interact with your audience properly.” Standing, she adds, “focuses your audience,” as well as lending you authority.
  4. Ad-lib. “Don’t memorize your speeches word for word. Because then if you do blank out, you’re sunk.” Instead, suggests Knight, “worry about giving the same message over and over” in different words. Bring notes in case you need them.
  5. Avoid the eyes. Instead of looking people in the eye, “look just above their eyes at their foreheads. That looks to them like you’re looking in their eyes. I will blank if I find I’m looking right in someone’s eyes.”
  6. Imagine them naked, of course. And that old saw about imagining them naked? Hey, whatever works.