Speaking Engagements – Butterflies Anyone?


Winnie Griggs here again, back with the next post on speaking engagements.  As promised in my last post, today I’m going to talk about working through the fear.

In my last post I mentioned that fear of public speaking is very real and very prevalent.   Mark Twain said it best, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars”.  While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it’s probably not too far off the mark.


I myself suffer from this phobia.   As proof of this, I‘ll confess that

  • When I was in college I took 15 hours of a foreign language class just to get out of 6 hours of speech class.
  • When I hit the real world of day jobs – I dodged every opportunity to give presentations at work, even if those opportunities were tied to some prestige-garnering reward or activity

In fact, the only thing that finally drove me out of my comfort zone enough to get me in front of an audience came as a direct result of making my first sale.  When my High School Alumni director learned about my sale, she invited me, as one of their ‘distinguished alumni’ to present that year’s Commencement Address at the graduation ceremony.  To my horror I found myself agreeing to do it.

Then the panic set in.   For the next several weeks I felt an irrational hope that the world would end before I had to make good on my promise.  Well the world didn’t end, I did give the address, and I not only survived but was actually congratulated by virtual strangers on how composed and inspiring I was.

Convinced that my having lived through the ordeal with my dignity intact was a not-to-be-repeated fluke, I fully intended not to tempt fate a second time.  However, life conspired to present me with other hard to refuse “opportunities”, one after another, until now I actually seek out these opportunities as a way to justify my addiction to attending writers’ conferences.  And while I still feel more than a little intimidated every time I step in front of an audience, I don’t find it nearly the anxiety-inducing ordeal it once was.

So, let’s talk about a few tips and pointers I picked up along the way.  Before we get to that, though, a quick caveat –  if you are looking for a magic bullet to cure you of this fear, I’m sorry to tell you that if such an amulet exists I have yet to discover it.  What I do hope to be able to accomplish, however, is to provide you with some information to help you control your fears and let them work for you rather than against you.

Now, on to my list of Tips:

  1. Recognize that fear is not necessarily a bad thing.  It kicks your adrenaline into high gear, heightens your senses and provides nervous energy that can be channeled into positive action.  Again it’s a matter of whether you allow those butterflies to zing through your stomach in a maelstrom of chaos,    or train them to fly in formation.
  2. Try to view your presentation as a conversation with a group of friends.  Realize that the people you are talking to are already in your corner.  They are looking forward to what you have to say, are interested in you and/or your topic, and they want you to succeed.  One way to help you do this is to arrive early and greet individual audience members as they arrive.  Just some casual chit-chat – where are you from, are you enjoying the conference, what do you write – will help you make a connection with indiviuals.
  3. Keep in mind that, because the fear of speaking is so universal, audience members will empathize with you if you get off to a bit of shaky start or lose your place once or twice long the way.
  4. Also, your nervousness will not be as evident as you might think.  Most people don’t notice the little bobbles we make along the way, and what feels like a stilted, nervous delivery to you probably comes across as a deliberate, focused effort to those around you.
  5. If your topic is one you feel strongly about, focus on communicating your message and your passion for it.  That positive energy will give you an aura of commitment and authority that will carry you through the talk.
  6. Just do it!  The more experience you gain as a speaker, the more assured you will become – and the knowledge that you lived through it doesn’t hurt either!  For most of us, with each talk you give, your confidence will grow.
  7. And that brings us to the number one slayer of fears and anxiety – CONFIDENCE.  As I said earlier, there is no real magic pill or one-size-fits-all cure to fear of public speaking.  But that all important confidence can be gained from the knowledge that you are PREPARED.

In my upcoming posts I’ll go over my own steps for feeling prepared.

So what about you.  Do you have some tips and tricks that help ease your own anxieties when it comes to giving talks?  If so, please share.