If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, you are not alone. Polls indicate that the fear of public speaking affects 70-75% of the population and is more common than the fear of spiders, confinement or even death. The fear of public speaking is anxiety driven and stems from our fear of being judged–our fear of self-humiliation. Tightness in the chest, sweat, nausea, a blank mind…it’s different for each of us, but it can be overcome. Believe me–I’ve done it. Now, not only have I overcome my fear of public speaking, but I coach communication skills at Speechworks.

In high school, I unwisely agreed to sing in the talent show. This was a small school and a BIG event, so the auditorium was full. I have no entertainment-worthy talents– so, why I agreed to sing— a Sarah McLachlan song at that— goes without reason…but I did it. And I was awful. Not only was I not in tune, but I forgot the second verse and sung the first one twice. I did, in fact, humiliate myself. I was a junior, so I was the butt-end of many jokes for a full year and a half.

I was traumatized. I couldn’t sing along with the radio in my car for decade. But, time heals, and as the joke got old and stale, I saw light at the end of my tunnel of shame. Now, I love to belt out “What’s Up?” by the 4 Non Blondes when I need to purge unwanted energy. It’s wonderfully therapeutic.

That said, my inner-critic wasn’t finished with me. The fear of humiliation came barreling back when I had to speak at my best friend’s wedding. I was her maid of honor—I had no choice. This time, I prepared. I practiced, practiced and practiced some more. I sang “What’s Up” in the car and did jumping jacks in the bathroom. I was sweating everywhere and my knees knocking, but I pulled it off. I looked the boogeyman in the eye and I ripped off the band-aid.

I won’t say that experience cured my fear, but it was the first step. As I progressed in my career, I faced it repeatedly in front of boards and large groups. Now, I’ve done the public speaking thing often enough that the boogeyman is just a flea I flick away before I take the stage, BUT only after I’ve mentally and physically prepared. At Speechworks, here are some things that we recommend:

  • There is no substitute for practice.
  • Positive visualization. This primes the mind for success and staves off the fear of failure.
  • Grounding and meditation. This clears my mind, dispels flashbacks and replaces negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Power poses. Amy Cuddy has a wonderful Ted Talk that explains these and the benefits.
  • Dynamic tension exercises. E.g., Press hands together to create tension and release energy.

If I can do it, so can you. You just have to prepare.

Lauren Marlow

Lauren MarlowLauren is a dedicated coach and advisor for Speechworks’ clients, helping them to craft concise and persuasive messages, develop an engaging presentation style and cultivate an executive presence. Lauren draws on her 15 years’ experience as a practicing business attorney to help clients refine their communication skills and content for a variety of scenarios, including condensing complicated information into simple and digestible talking points, presenting to boards, running meetings, making a pitch and handling impromptu speaking requests when there is little to no time to prepare.

Lauren is a Georgia native, but she lived in Boston, Germany and Colorado before returning to Atlanta in 2010. Lauren spends her free-time with her family, pottery throwing, studying philosophy and exploring local museums and festivals. She is also a “people person”, loves adventure and embraces diverse cultures, foods, music and customs with an open heart and mind.