How to Confront the Fear of Public Speaking

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Today’s guest post is by author Deborah Niemann.


Last week as my adult daughter was driving me to a TV station in Indianapolis for a morning show to promote my book, Homegrown and Handmade, I said, “I guess I should be used to the fact that I feel like I’m really sick every time I do TV.”

At first, she didn’t understand what I was saying. I couldn’t be saying that I had butterflies in my stomach, could I? After all, I’ve been on TV plenty of times from local news to Oprah. But that was exactly what I was saying. All morning long, I had been telling myself that I did not have food poisoning or the flu and that I would be perfectly fine. And I was right.

Believe it or not, I actually love public speaking. Lack of fear—or communication apprehension, as the experts call it—is not what separates public speakers from people who refuse to speak in public. All speakers have some level of communication apprehension. As they used to say when I was in Toastmasters, the goal is not to get rid of the butterflies, the goal is to make them fly in formation. In other words, you have to learn to control your fear.

But the first thing you have to do is confront your fear. What was I afraid of in Indianapolis?

I was afraid that I wouldn’t look competent, and then no one would want to buy my book. So, I had to convince myself that there wasn’t anything I could do that would make matters worse. None of the viewers knew who I was, so if I did a great job, some of them would buy the book.

But what if I boiled over the noodles or burned the stroganoff, or what if—in spite of the laws of cooking—the sauce didn’t get thick? Those were all unrealistic fears, and even if something horrible did happen on the show, the worst thing that would happen in the real world is that I might sell fewer books. Or some people might be inspired to try cooking if a bumbling person like me could write a book on the topic!

One thing that you should always remember when you’re speaking is that no one in the audience knows what you are going to do or say. If you make a mistake, in most cases, no one knows—as long as you don’t point it out. If the sauce in my stroganoff wasn’t perfectly thick enough, no one would have known.

Once you learn to control your fear, you can make it work in your favor. Some of the most exciting speakers are chaneling their fear into what looks like enthusiasm in their speech. After seeing a friend compete in a high level speech tournament and present the most animated speech I’d ever seen, he told us that it was because he was terrified, and all of his tension was coming out in his speech. It was incredibly moving, and he won first place in the competition.

I know that public speaking is not something that most people want to do, but if you want to sell your book, it is something that you will probably have to do at some point. The reason my publisher wanted me to write Homegrown and Handmade was because I had an established platform, and I wasn’t afraid to speak in front of people. In fact, the acquisition editor met me at a conference where I was speaking to a crowd with standing-room only.

But I didn’t start out in front of an audience that size. It wasn’t that long ago that I was teaching classes in my kitchen to a group of four or five people. Start small. Volunteer to speak in front of a local group that is interested in your topic. Join a local Toastmasters club. As you get more comfortable, volunteer to speak in front of larger groups. As you polish your skills, you will gain confidence. Before too long, people will start to view you as an expert on your topic, and you will be one step closer to your publishing goals!

 

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Writing Advice.
Deborah Niemann

Deborah Niemann

Deborah Niemann is a homesteader, writer, and self-sufficiency expert. In 2002, she relocated her family from the suburbs of Chicago to a 32-acre parcel on a creek in the middle of nowhere. Together, they built their own home and began growing the majority of their own food. Sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, chickens, and turkeys supply meat, eggs and dairy products, while an organic garden and orchard provides fruit and vegetables. A highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader, Deborah presents extensively on topics including soapmaking, breadbaking, cheesemaking, composting and homeschooling. Check out her farm, Antiquity Oaks, and its blog.

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15 Comments on "How to Confront the Fear of Public Speaking"

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Deborah TaylorFrench

Wonderful post!

Yes, making fears fly in formation is a skill we all can learn. And starting with a small group and an informal setting works to build confidence.

As a young adult I became a teacher of educational dance for young children then over time I was asked to teach teachers. Soon a packed room offered me the challenge of putting people at ease. Focused on helping others get over their shyness, I began to enjoy public speaking.

Deborah Niemann

That’s great! Isn’t it amazing how much we learn when we teach others?

Nita

On days when I was especially insecure or nervous about speaking, on particular Toastmaster would remind me the audience was on my side. He said that no matter where I was speaking, the audience had come to hear me, they expected to at the very least enjoy what I had to say. He’d remind me, the audience wasn’t there to find fault with my speaking, but to be enlightened by it. I have that sentence, “The audience is on my side” on a note card in my purse as a reminder.

Deborah Niemann

Excellent tip! Thanks for sharing that!

Susan McNerney
I minored in Speech and Debate in college, and competed nationally in everything from debate to “Speech to Entertain” (essentially standup). The vast majority of the time my pieces involved humor, but in the bizarre alternate universe of competitive forensics, I’d have to perform over and over again in front of 6-10 people at a time, most of whom wanted very badly for me to screw up. I never stopped being nervous, not once, but the thrill of it kept me coming back. Public speaking gets a lot easier over time, but for most people, adrenaline levels still go up.… Read more »
Deborah Niemann

I competed in speech in high school, as well as Toastmasters, and speaking competitions are really different! Even though the audience can be smaller, it can be way more stressful.

kathryn magendie

Sounds like I am similar to your friend when I have to “public speak” – I don’t make notes -the horror! – and just wing it. But somehow things always seem to pull together and if they don’t, then I guess I’ll never know *laugh*

Energetic and dynamic post here.

Deborah Niemann

When I taught public speaking in college, the goal was to get students to NOT read a speech. An outline is great to keep you on track, but other than that, speeches are much more engaging and powerful if you don’t have it all written out.

Charlotte Morganti

This is a great post — thanks! I am going to forward it on to my Toastmasters group (called “Off the Page”) – its a speaking club for writers and a writing group for speakers. I’m one of the writers in the group who is working on training her butterflies!

Deborah Niemann

That sounds wonderful! I’d love to have a Toastmasters group filled with writers!

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[…] Chuck Wendig examines 25 Things You Should Know About Your Completed Novel; Writer’s Relief gives us the 5 most dangerous career pitfalls for a new writer; and Deborah Niemann confronts the fear of public speaking. […]

Crissi Langwell

I’m facing this now as I prepare to sell my own book, and came across your post. My biggest fear is talking in front of people and having them think I don’t know what I’m talking about. You reminded me that I know my book the best! Now I just have to learn how to keep my tongue from swelling up and drying out as soon as I start speaking….

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