How Can Authors Conquer Fear of Public Speaking?

By Henry DeVries, CEO, Indie Books Intl.

One of the main messages in my book Marketing With a Book is that speaking is the number one business development strategy for the owner of a service business.

If you need to learn how to speak, join Toastmasters. Not only is such a group likely to attract other success-oriented professionals, it’s also a great, low-threat way to pick up practical pointers, watch other dynamic speakers in action, and begin to get used to the idea of speaking to groups.

A marketing pro who shared some other great ideas on the subject with me recently is Michelle Stansbury, founder and CEO of Little Penguin PR, a strategic public relations company based in San Diego. Stansbury’s background is in public relations, branding, and business development, having worked with Fortune 500 companies to help them build long-term brand value and reach their target audience.

“Stage fright is a common fear that affects many business owners,” says Stansbury. “A successful speech can position you as a thought leader and an expert in your industry.”

Her mission in starting Little Penguin PR is to take the same resources that Fortune 500 companies use in PR and provide them to small and mid-sized businesses to help them succeed. Fortune 500 execs know the value of speaking to promote their company, cause, or career.

“If picturing the audience in their underwear has not worked for you, here are a few additional strategies to help you conquer your fear,” says Stansbury.

  • Focus on key points. Instead of memorizing a speech, structure your presentation around three to five key points. A memorized speech typically comes across stilted and if you forget a few words or a sentence it can throw off your entire presentation. Having clear key points also makes your speech easier for your audience to understand and remember. Beginning your presentation with a brief summary of the key points will help your audience recognize the takeaways of your speech.
  • Interact. One of the scariest parts of public speaking is that it can feel like the entire room is against you. Break out of this isolation by bringing the audience into your presentation. It will make your speech much more engaging and also reduce your fear by humanizing your audience. Asking for shows of hands, volunteer participants, and vocal responses are good tools to consider.
  • Start with Why. You need to ask yourself: Why you are there to speak? What is the point of your speech? What do you hope to achieve? Keep your ego aside and understand that the audience is not there to watch you fail, but to find value in what you have to say. When it isn’t about you, it is much easier to reduce stage fright and convey the information in an interesting and engaging way. Keep the “why” at the center of your presentation and don’t let fear take you off track.
  • Watch and Learn. Have you ever seen a speaker who is calm, clear, articulate, engaging, and insightful? Instead of watching great speakers in awe, take careful note of the ways in which they present themselves and the information. You can learn a lot by watching great speakers and visualizing yourself using their techniques.

“If the fear of public speaking is keeping you from opportunities to share your expertise, then find another way,” says Stansbury. “Try filming a webinar for online exposure. If having an audience is what trips you up, filming a presentation and distributing it through online platforms can give you the same exposure as a thought leader. And if you mess up, you can always take two (or ten).”

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