Real Leaders

Talking to a Crowd? Get Personal

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking

I have a fear of public speaking and try to avoid it at all costs. I feel that most people who know me personally would think that I would be a very good public speaker, which actually compounds the fear I have of public speaking. I’ve noticed that I’m most sensitive to it, when I’m unexpectedly asked to stand up in front of people and talk about myself or a subject that is being discussed. I would love to hear any ways to deal with this in the future,” asks Randy Lefaivre, CEO of Metrologo Inc.

Dear Randy,

You just perfectly summarized how a majority of us feel! You are not alone! Our fear and anxiety usually stem from our perfectionist tendencies. We don’t want to fail, especially in front of people we care about. It may be small comfort, but when you look out at your audience, you are staring at people who feel for you and are not really judging you. 

In fact, they may be quietly praising you for even standing up in the heat of battle or the spur of the moment. I see a lot of people who write out their speeches, including their own names, titles and names of their companies. I always say, “Now, you know your name, where you work and what you do.  You don’t need to look at a piece of paper to read that.” 

Look out at your audience and see just one person, who has a kind face or a smile and talk to just them — say your name and what you do. It’s easier that way. Just talk to one person. Then think about the kindest person you know and what they would like to know about you. Tell them something about your family, maybe about how much you love them and how much fun you have with your kids or grandchildren. 

Then a good rule is to read a newspaper or news feed every day and think back to something non-confrontational you’ve read and share that news and how it made you feel — it might be a sports score, a discovery or new scientific device — something you’ve read or heard about.  This is impersonal and amounts to sharing something of mutual interest. Then, you can move into talking about your career and company once you’ve warmed up on these topics.

Randy, this is a big question you have asked — let’s invite some readers to chime in here, in the comments below, with suggestions and examples of how they have conquered this challenge.

Have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about public speaking? Email James at and your answer may feature here.

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