Public Speaking Scares Me, Should I Do It Anyway?

If you write a newsletter about public speaking, or if you are a speaker coach, there’s something you will hear about a lot.

Fear.

People fear public speaking more than death, and sometimes, more than snakes.

And for women there are often extra fears — of harassment on stage, or off. In the current climate we can’t dispute these fears are rational. For women, attention comes with extra risk, and extra cost. Cate was harassed as a speaker, quit speaking, and eventually made the slow journey back to it.

So when one of the readers of our newsletter reached out to us asking us to discuss the fear and anxiety some women have putting themselves out there with strong opinions we knew just the person to ask — Denise, who coached Cate through her terror of getting back on stage, and who writes The Eloquent Woman blog on women and public speaking. And we were thrilled to be sponsored by Medium, because we want to see women more represented on every platform — not just the conference stage!

We had a great time and got loads of fantastic questions. And what was interesting is that people asked about fear as it relates to every part of the speaking process. From the CfP to the aftermath — it’s not just the fear of being on stage with an audience of people looking at you.

So here are our tips for managing fear at every stage in the process.

The CfP

  • Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
  • Share your experience. Don’t assume others already know about it. You don’t need to be “the” expert, you just need to share your perspective.

Preparing Your Talk

  • Build it on a grid
  • Schedule a smaller talk (e.g. at a local meetup group) a couple of weeks before The Event.
  • Practice! Preferably out loud, so you can hear where you stumble and fix it.

15 Minutes Before

  • Power poses!
  • Acknowledge your anxiety. You do not need to change your slides.
  • Smile, both before and during. Smiling counteracts the natural tendency of your mouth to flat-line or look down-turned (aka sad), but more important, the act of pushing your cheeks up into a smile triggers two brain chemicals: one that reduces stress and one that makes you feel good. They go to work almost immediately.

During

  • Most of the time, the audience won’t know you are fearful or nervous if you don’t tell them. That’s just one of several ways to look confident, even when you don’t feel confident.
  • Remember, pauses will seem much longer to you than to your audience. Use them to pace yourself, and to make sure your ideas can sink in with the audience.

Question time

  • You don’t have to answer all questions on stage — especially if the questioner just wants to hear the sound of their own voice, or the question has limited relevance. Ask them to come find you after.
  • Don’t assume a question is automatically a challenge. The person may simply want to know or hear more, or to make a point themselves, in which case you need only acknowledge their point. You don’t need to agree with everyone.

After

  • The fear of harassment is (usually) worse than the harassment itself. This is also true for many public speaking fears: We are great at imagining worst-case scenarios, but they rarely happen.
  • If you’re at all introverted, you’ll want to hide—in a handy stairwell or quiet hallway—both before and after your talk to replenish your energy. Often, speakers mistake fear for introversion.

By: Chiu-Ki, Cate and Denise