Public Speaking: Don’t Let Fear Dilute Your Message


December 28, 2011

Imagine this scene- you’re attending a meeting or presentation and one of the leaders rises to speak.  Maybe he is going to share news of outstanding revenue growth or of a new product or program the company is launching.  He moves to the front of the room and as he does, he is looking at the floor.  He gets to the podium where he looks briefly out on the audience.  Then, eye contact is lost.  He stumbles, stutters, and quietly works his way through the presentation as he reads directly from his notes.

As you sit in the audience, are you focusing on the message?  Or, are you taking note of how fear of public speaking has gripped this person and diluted his message?

We can all realate to times when our fears, whether rational or not, get the better of us.  The key is not to let you fear “win” by holding you back.  There are several steps you can take to help alleviate the fear taking over the situation.

  • Anticipate- Think about all the possible outcomes of the situation before you put yourself in the situation.  As you think of each outcome, concentrate on what about each outcome causes you anxiety.  How can you reduce that anxiety?
  • Prepare- Whenever you are facing a situation, preparation can help diminish the fear level.  If you’re afraid of heights, for example, think about all possible ways that a situation is secure before you put yourself out there.  If it is public speaking that makes you fearful, make sure that you have spent the appropriate time preparing your notes.  These are just a few examples.
  • Practice Regardless of what your fear is, practicing your approach is a critical step in making you a success.  Are you fearful of approaching a potential new client?  Make sure you practice how the discussion or meeting will go.  It will make it feel more natural when you actually make the call or arrive for the meeting.
  • Succeed- You’ve taken the time to work through all the potential obstacles in your mind, so now you need to go out and succeed!

The same steps hold true for almost any fear that may dilute your message.  Whether it is fear of a person who intimidates you, fear of public speaking, fear of not succeeding, fear of writing (even a blog), all these things can make you freeze and not get your message across.  By taking a step back, we can regain composure and confidence and make the most of any situation.

Do you have any tips or tricks you use when you are facing a situation that makes you uncomfortable?  Share them with us in the comments….


  • Very nice post, Trish. I think almost all of us can identify with the fear of speaking, whether earlier in our careers or even now for many.

    What has always helped me, and what I always recommend to my clients, is to avoid trying to memorize your speech or to read it verbatim, but to be sure to really lock down tight your first few sentences, and your few key points. Getting that momentum of a great opening behind you does wonders to boost your confidence and win the support of an audience. It only gets better and better once you’ve got those two elements on your side!

    • @Lorne- Such great tips- thank you. I especially like your point about once you have the opening nailed, it often helps the rest of the speech flow better because of the confidence it gives the speaker. Such a positive approach!

  • Thanks for the reminders, which I think would be beneficial in many situations, not only public speaking.

    One tip I use is to have a well-organized speech prepared, and memorize the key points. I agree with Lorne that you need a strong, well-rehearsed opening.

    One challenge I have is that once I’ve practiced, I tend to ad-lib too much and have to be very disciplined not to go off on tangents.

    • @Zan- Being able to memorize the key points is a great tip. It’s often intimidating for people to try to memorize an entire speech and really, that is not the most effective way to deliver. I also like how you shared how easy it is to go off track. I’m sure that applies to many other speakers.

  • Good advice. Can I add a bit?

    When you rehearse (and you do rehearse, don’t you?) do it out loud. After all, no one ever makes mistakes in their head! 🙂 What’s more, if you rehearse out loud you’ll find the bits of your presentation which don’t work so well much more effectively if you try them out loud.

    I recommend for my presentation skills training skills courses that people spend an hour developing and rehearsing their presentations for each minute they expect to be on stage… it’s harsh advice but rather that than the scenario you described, where the presentation is a waste of everyone’s time!

    • @Simon- Thanks for your addition! You’re right, being able to actually hear yourself saying the words is very helpful. I’ve even made a video before to see how I sound and also what my body language is.

  • Hi Trish – thanks for taking the time to reply. Like you’ve I’ve used recordings sometimes…

    … but I’d advise using them with caution, particularly for novice presenters as very often (in my experience with clients at least) people perform/behave slightly differently when there’s a camera around…. 🙂

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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