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How to overcome your fear of public speaking

September 19, 2013 10:52 IST

How to overcome your fear of public speaking


Aparna Sundaresan, YouthIncMag

The thought of going up to the dais and addressing a group of people gives most of us the heebie-jeebies. However, speaking to an audience is a skill that needs to be developed because you will be addressing gatherings well well into your professional life too. These tips should help you deal with the anxiety of public speaking.

There are three parts to speaking in public:

  • Writing the speech
  • Practising it
  • Delivering it


Writing a speech is different from writing an essay or article.

A speech typically has short, simple and more focused sentences that are written with the aim of conveying a particular idea or set of related ideas.

Here’s how you can start writing your speech:

Know the end before the beginning. What are you conveying to the audience? What do you want them to remember and take away? That should be the driving force of the speech.

Research the subject well. Holes in your speech will be noticed, especially if there is a Q&A session afterwards.

Write a rough outline. Start with the general and then get specific.

Keep the text simple. Don’t go overboard with too many technicalities unless necessary.

Use humour but not too much; jokes can dilute the seriousness of a topic.

Know your audience. This roughly relates to the above point.

If you are talking to beginners, keep your speech simple and basic. If you're speaking to experts, you can get more technical.

Be aware of the time limit. 2000 words takes roughly 10 minutes to deliver. Write accordingly.

Read the speech out loud.

Edit or cut parts that don’t sound good when said aloud, especially if you can make do without them.

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Photographs: Illustration by Dominic Xavier/


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This is where you need to focus the most. The more you practice, the less you will mess up when you finally deliver your speech.

Write notes in little note cards. Identify the important points, along with the instances in your speech where you transition from one thought to another, and jot them down on small cards.

Highlight the transition points; at this point in your speech you can pause, look up and make eye contact with the audience.

Practice in front of a mirror. Notice your posture.

Don’t be too still and stiff, but don’t be too relaxed and walk around a lot either. Find a balance. Practice using hand gestures for effect and emphasis.

Record yourself rehearsing. When you play it back you’ll know where you need to improve.

Watch it like a viewer and treat the video like it’s on YouTube, and make note of this – how long does it hold your attention and why?

Deliver the speech to random objects -- a vase, a photo frame, the neighbourhood cat, etc.

Don’t deliver in monotone. Inflect your speech. Apply emphasis when necessary and experiment with the volume of your voice.

Always time your speech.

Call your friends and deliver your speech to them. They are your practice audience.

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Read your notes a few times before it is your turn to speak.

Do some deep breathing exercises.

Make eye contact.

There are three kinds of eye contact you should make while talking -- a sweeping gaze at the entire audience, eye contact with one particular person, and a gaze at a fixed point in a distance.

Think positive. Imagine the audience applauding you after your speech to feel motivated.

After you’re done, write your experience on a sheet of paper or in a journal, along with what you liked about your speech and what you could improve upon.

The next time you need to speak, read this and be encouraged and better prepared.

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Banishing Anxiety

Breathing exercises will calm you, and help clear your chest and throat so that your voice does not betray you while you speak.

Stand straight and pull your shoulders back.

Put your hands on your stomach.

Breathe deeply through your nose. Feel your diaphragm distend, but hold your shoulders down. Hold your breath and count to four.

Exhale slowly through your mouth. Feel your diaphragm collapse.

Repeat five times.

Then breathe in deeply through your nose.

When exhaling, sound out a vowel -- ‘aaaah’ for A; ‘eeeee’ for E; ‘ayyyee’ for I; ‘ohhhhhh’ for O; and ‘uuuuuu’ (as in ‘you’) for U.

Repeat for each vowel.

If direct eye contact makes you nervous, look at objects close to the person, or their body parts, and then close in on their eyes. For example, start from the hair, then forehead, eyebrows, then eyes. Or chair leg, legs, stomach, hands, neck, mouth, then eyes.

Remember, nobody knows what you’re going to say; you’re the master of your speech.

If you make a mistake or skip a line or even a paragraph, who’s going to know?

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