The best speaker’s worst problem

By Amy Beth Miller

The best speaker in the Public Speaking 101 course I took was evident from the first assignment. We were to spend a few minutes getting to know one of our new classmates and then introduce that person to the others. As soon as Rita finished introducing a football player, I turned to another student and said “With an introduction like that, he could be elected president!”

Rita could write and deliver great presentations. She had only one problem: She was terrified.

Her fear seemed to go beyond the usual public speaking jitters. And it puzzled me that she, of all the students in the class, would be so afraid of speaking to the group. Rita wasn’t a traditional freshman. She was returning to school after raising five children. Her kids were older than her classmates, so I would have thought that speaking before us would be a breeze.

Rita already had mastered many of the lessons for effective public speaking. Her “how-to” presentation was a perfect example.

  • She spoke about what she knew. She gave us a lesson on how to diaper a baby.
  • She added appropriate humor. Rita didn’t try to tell jokes, but she made us chuckle with her comments. For example, she confided that she did most of the diapering for their five children because her husband, a doctor, couldn’t handle seeing a dirty diaper and was “a gagger.”
  • She used props well. As Rita spoke, she deftly diapered a baby doll. When she finished, she held up the doll to reveal “The End” written on the back of the diaper.

During that speech, only one telltale sign revealed how scared Rita was. Her red blouse trembled because she was shaking.

Fear plagued Rita all the way through her final speaking assignment in the class. She was once again delivering a great speech, which had the entire audience paying close attention, when she suddenly stopped and said “I can’t.” She was too frightened to continue. The instructor and we students murmured encouraging words, and she finished the presentation.

We all wanted Rita to succeed. We were on her side.

Your audience wants you to succeed too. Even people who hold opposing views would rather see a speaker present an argument well than stumble and falter.

We want you to succeed as a public speaker. Order your copy of No Sweat! Overcome Your Fear of Speaking today.

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2 responses to “The best speaker’s worst problem

  1. It’s a fear of “being judged” and feeling like you owe the audience for their time (which you do in a way) but forgetting that there is also a debt owed by the audience for the work you put in.
    For the vast majority of people I think the ‘fear’ is driven by our early childhood experiences because unless you’re at the top of the food chain in school, you’re very much playing catch up on confidence.

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