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Public Speaking Made Easy (Really)

Libi Astaire

It’s many people’s number one fear — and no, it’s not the fear of losing your job, or even going to the dentist. It’s the terror of speaking in public. But this fear can be overcome, and you can even enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

microphone, crowdNovember 29, 2011, was one of those rare “it’s wonderful to be an author” mornings. In my e-mail inbox was a notice from a publisher that a royalty payment was on the way, a nice comment from a reader, and an invitation to do an author’s reading for my novel Terra Incognita. While thinking about all the ways I could spend the money, I dashed off an acceptance note for the reading and hit the “send” button.

A moment later I stared at my computer screen in horror.


I frantically searched for the “rewind” button. I’m a writer, not a speaker! But it was too late. The deed was done, and I had just two options: Panic for the next two months, or try to overcome my fear.


You Are Not Alone

Lenny Laskowski is a professional public speaker who specializes in helping people give better speeches and presentations. In addition to being the author of the best-selling book 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking, he maintains a website where he provides a wealth of information. There, he shares the “comforting” fact that while only 7 percent of people fear dying, a whopping 41 percent are afraid to speak in public, making it the number one fear.

Apparently, success in other areas of life doesn’t diminish this fear. J. K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series that has sold more than 400 million books, began her Harvard University commencement address in this manner:

“The first thing I would like to say is thank you. Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation!”

According to Mr. Laskowski, there are better ways to lose weight. He suggests that newcomers to the art of public speaking first admit that nervousness is perfectly natural and then move on to the next step: prepare. How soon? As soon as you accept the invitation.

“A speech needs time to grow,” Laskowski writes. “Prepare for weeks, sleep on it, dream about it, and let your ideas slip into your subconscious. Ask yourself questions, write down your thoughts, and keep thinking of new ideas.”

Questions you might ask yourself include: What is the purpose of the speech? Who is my audience? How will I grab their attention? What are the main points of my presentation? What visual aids will I need?

Laskowski recommends spending about 30 hours in preparation and rehearsal for every hour of actual speaking. The goal is to know your material intimately, so that your notes will be just for occasional referral and your eyes will be free to make contact with your audience. It also helps to keep in mind that even the most experienced public speakers will feel some nervousness before they have to speak.


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