Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking

I’ve been catching up on podcasts and was listening to A Casual Conversation with Meredith Farkas on OPAL. Tom Peters asked Meredith about how she got started in public speaking and she spoke about how terrified she was the first time.

I think we can all relate. According to the Book of Lists more people fear public speaking than fear death!

When I meet people and the question inevitably comes up of what do I do for a living, usually the response is, “I could never stand up in front of people like that.” The funny thing is I can completely relate. I was not always comfortable with public speaking. When I was in elementary school I hated, hated, hated reading out loud.

When I was in about 5th grade I realized that if I wanted to be successful in school and in life I needed to conquer this fear. I gave my first speech as part of a 4-H program about the dangers to sea turtles from releasing helium balloons. I was scared to death, but the speech was ok. After this I looked for any opportunity to speak or perform in front of an audience.

In 6th grade I was in a talent show and sang the theme from Flashdance. I rehearsed for weeks alone in my room and in front of my friends, but when the big day came I was terrified and started to lose my voice. My teacher said I could back out and no one would know. But determined to conquer this fear I went out on stage anyway. The music started, I got into my groove, I opened my mouth to sing, but no sound came out. I froze. Completely froze. The kids in the audience started laughing while I ran off stage and cried.

This was probably my worst public speaking/singing moment to date. I think it’s also a prime example of why more people are afraid of of public speaking than of death.

The funny thing is, the next day at school no one mentioned the disaster. It was quickly forgotten by everyone but me. It took me a while to get back on that horse. But eventually I did. In high school I was captain of the debate team for four-years and performed in several school and community theater productions (I even sang in a few).

The moral of this story (other than never ask me to sing) is that with practice, perseverance, and passion you really can do anything–including public speaking.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.

2 comments
Tony Tallent
Tony Tallent

Being able to present one's ideas is a skill that can take ideas into viral action. It's something that most people want to be able to do, but so many shy away from. Jumping in and doing it is perhaps the only way. Practice does hep...take opportunities to share ideas "out loud" in groups you know are supportive, and then let it grow. Few people are "perfect" at public speaking. Being authentic and offering engaging information is the key. Tony

Andrew - Six Minutes Public Speaking Blog
Andrew - Six Minutes Public Speaking Blog

Good article, Lori. I think that people are not scared of public speaking itself; they are scared of being embarrassed if they make a mistake or otherwise don't deliver to the audience. As you point out, I think this fear of embarrassment is often rooted in the laughter of classmates at a young age. Bravo to you for conquering this fear at a young age. Public speaking is not rocket science. Anyone can be successful with practice and preparation.

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