When I speak to groups about becoming a unique and sexy speaker, inevitably someone will pipe up, "Well, you know people are more afraid of making a speech than they are of dying."

Isn't it time we laid that old chestnut to rest? After all, many people feel that way about lots of things. Some would rather die than fly, or bungee jump, or leap from an airplane with a carefully packed parachute and a trained instructor strapped firmly to their back.

At least when you give a speech you've got both feet on the ground. Usually.


Think Like A Racehorse

We all know who they are. They’re the speakers who love to get up in front of a group and dazzle everyone with their knowledge and expertise. They have just the right stories, mannerisms, and power point technique. They seem to be completely comfortable in front of the audience, certainly not white knuckling it through their presentations. Of course, we’d like to be like them.

However, often when it comes time to think about giving a talk in front of 10 or more people, suddenly we feel weak as a jellyfish. Our breathing becomes panicky and erratic, legs feel wobbly, brain just won't seem to focus, and we contemplate the choice between fight or flight, feeling like a fly caught in a spider’s web.



"It's not giving the speech that terrifies me," said a colleague recently. "It's all that anxiety beforehand… those moments, days or weeks before, when I'm planning and preparing… that make me feel sick to my stomach!"

He's not the first or only speaker who suffers from knock-out nerves before giving a speech. Pre-speech anxiety comes in many forms: procrastination, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, irritability, queasiness… there are many more symptoms. They might be due to other causes, but they're very well known to many speakers, from the tentative beginner to the seasoned pro. Why does getting up in front of a bunch of strangers make us feel so scared? And what can we do to prevent it?



Barry was preparing a controversial presentation to the leaders of his country. In a nutshell, he was advocating that the country take a completely new direction with one of its policies. Though Barry had a few supporters for this daring proposition, he knew the majority regarded his views as radical and unworkable. They were not at all receptive. How could he show them that his new way was better without their jumping to angry conclusions or simply refusing to listen?

What should you do when you know your audience is hostile?



It's unfortunately true that many people feel that speaking in public is like walking barefoot on hot coals. You can actually see their discomfort. They can't stand still. They constantly shift their balance from one foot to the other and back again, like marching in place.

For others, standing in front of an audience is like facing a firing squad. They plant themselves on a spot and freeze, afraid to move an inch in any direction or they might get shot. Or they hide behind the lectern or podium, afraid to move out from behind its protective shield to get close to their listeners.


How To Create A Great Speech

What's the greatest speech you've ever heard in your lifetime? Think about it for a minute. For some people a great speech and a great speaker spring to mind without any hesitation just because they were so memorable.

Take, for example, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. We know it as his "I Have A Dream" speech. We revisit that moment every year on Dr. King's birthday and we can hear it any time on YouTube. It's accessible electronically in a way that most other historic speeches, say, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, are not. So what made that speech great? Why does it touch us in a way that few other speeches in our history have? What did Dr. King say that was so special?