Getting Comfortable With Public Speaking



Effective public speaking is a developed skill. It requires, among other attributes, a balanced mix of patience, clear thinking and confidence. More importantly, good public speaking skills demand constant practice and improvement. Regardless of experience, a person’spublic speaking skills can always improve.

Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, recently delivered a presentation on public speaking entitled “Think Fast, Talk Smart: Communication Techniques.” Exuding strong communicative skills, Abrahams talked about how to improveone’s public speaking abilities in a lively display that involved insight, humor, audience participation and memorable maxims. His tips mainly focused on managing anxiety and handling spontaneous public speaking situations.

Anxiety Management 

Anxiety invariably accompanies public speaking. If left unrestrained, anxiety has devastating effects and significantly reduces the power of the speaker’s message. The audience becomes disengaged and the speaker fumbles over their ideas, which then seem to lack any conviction.

Controlling anxiety makes both the speaker and the audience comfortable. This shared comfort is critical for effective public speaking. To help reach this point, Abrahams has the following tips to manage anxiety:

  • Greet anxiety – Recognize that anxiety-induced feelings, such as nausea, muscle tension and shortness of breath, naturally occur during public speaking situations for many people. Acknowledgement doesn’t necessarily diminish the symptoms,but it does help limit their effects. Welcoming anxiety serves as a means to control it.
  • Reframe the situation –Despite the common perception, public speaking is not a performance to the audience. Rather, public speaking is a conversation with the audience. Reframe speaking into a conversational mode by asking the audience questions and using conversational language. These methods help establish two-way communication and create an informal air.
  • Be present-oriented – Shed any worries about future consequences and stay mindful of the present moment. Before stepping up to the podium, performa routine that involves mental and/or physical activity to achieve a sense of calmness and awareness of the moment.

Ground Rules for Spontaneous Speaking

After accepting a public speaking engagement, the speaker is usually afforded time for preparation. But sometimes public speaking opportunities appear spontaneously and/or involuntarily, such as an elevator pitch or an impromptu introduction during a meeting. Whatever the situation, unplanned speeches carry extra stress. Keeping the anxiety management techniques in mind, Abrahams suggests the following the rules to navigate spontaneous speaking:

  • Get out of your own way – Public speaking usually comes with the heavy burden of perfection. This crushing pressure hinders spontaneity and elicits a reaction rather than a conversational response. Avoid the perils of over-analyzing.
  • See these situations as opportunities– See spontaneous public speaking as a great opportunity rather than one for disaster. Embrace the opportunity with verve instead of fear and worries.
  • Slow down and listen – Focus and listen to the audience’s response; don’t think or plan ahead. Remain in the moment and hear the message completely, then craft a response in a targeted way. Listening intently always makes for better responses.
  • Tell a story –Respond in a structured way. Structures increase the audience’s processing fluency, or the ability to reliably and accurately comprehend and recall information. Someeffective structure templates include the problem-solution-benefit structure and the what-so what-now what These structures offer the audience a set of clear directions.

To learn more, watch the full video of the presentation.

Photo credit: CC by Nadine Dereza

About the author: Alex Iarocci

Alex is a writer and copyeditor in Northeast Ohio. He holds a B.A in English from Case Western Reserve University. When not working, he enjoys reading and watching Cleveland sports.

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