Is Speaking Your #1 Fear?

 Nervousness is Selfish Energy

5 Techniques to Presenting … Comfortably and Confidently [originally posted Jan. ’09]

I recently caught a TV interview with Billy Joel’s wife (Katie Lee Joel). Knowing that millions of people would be watching, a friend gave her some of the best advice I’ve ever heard – that friend began by stating, “Nervousness is selfish energy.” – more on this below.

What has your nervousness cost you up till now? Do you regret not having taken an opportunity to speak at any of the following?

  • Client Meetings
  • Company Meetings
  • Peer Groups
  • Funerals For Loved Ones
  • Parties or Celebrations
  • Seminars or Conferences
  • Networking Functions

Is public speaking your #1 fear? If so, you are certainly not alone. All too often we miss opportunities to speak and share. Your experiences, successes, failures and stories all reflect valuable life lessons … especially when shared with others.

1. Nervousness is Selfish Energy

You see it all the time: pacing, shallow breathing, pocket-change-jingling, lack of eye contact and sweating. Why do people get so nervous? The answer is simple – they’re focused on … themselves. How selfish! When you’re in front of a group, make it about them … not you. Focus on the value you bring to your audience and what you want to communicate, convey and contribute.
The moment you focus on others and give up your need to “look good,” you’ll discover a profound shift in your ability to present and you’ll appear much more human. (Of course, a little nervousness is perfectly normal)

2. What’s Your Story?

For thousands of years, we’ve communicated effectively through storytelling. Stories don’t have to be memorized and usually should not be rehearsed, especially if they’re derived from personal experience. Telling stories will put you and your audience at ease. Whatever point(s) you want to make can be illustrated energetically and memorably with a story.

As a trainer, I could spend hours listing the facts, tips, tricks and techniques about delivering great customer service or I could share a couple of powerful stories, drawing from my own personal experiences – one about using frequent flyer points to book international travel on a major airline, and another about a debacle that ensued when I tried to order a guitar for my then-girlfriend’s birthday gift. Which method do you think would be more memorable, compelling, engaging and natural?

3. Press Pause

Remember, you know the material, but your audience usually doesn’t. That’s why you’re the one on stage. So take it slow and don’t let nerves cause you to hurry through your presentation. One of the biggest mistakes I see, is a presenter rushing through a very important – sometimes profound – point.
Keep in mind that listeners can’t process everything they hear, as quickly as you can speak it. In order for your words to fully sink in, you must allow a little time for processing. Pause briefly after making an important point and watch the faces in your audience. You’ll see the “light bulbs” after a second or two. Had you simply continued speaking, however, they likely would have missed your excellent point. Don’t rob the audience of the value your comments bring. (Pausing also gives you a moment to gather your own thoughts, before moving forward.)

4. Death by PowerPoint

I’ve seen so many folks hide behind a PowerPoint presentation to lessen nervousness. However, you, as the presenter, are the star of the show – not your slides. When the projector comes on (and the lights go off), a boring slide show may be turning spectators into zombies. But PowerPoint itself isn’t the enemy, non-strategic delivery of PowerPoint is. If you’re using slides, here are a few crucial tips:

  • Use pictures and/or video instead of text, whenever possible (remember, a picture is worth a thousand words)
  • Use bullet points (never paragraphs) and a large, easy-to-read font
  • Don’t read the text that’s on the screen. Bor-ing! (this won’t even be an issue if you’re following the last point)
  • Display bullet points one at a time (otherwise the audience will read ahead)
  • Use a remote control to advance slides, not your laptop or an assistant using your laptop (this will allow you to move about the room – motion creates e-motion – and present seamlessly)
  • When you’re not referring to slides, turn the projector off, (this action is usually a feature of your remote control)
  • Keep the lights on inside the room (slides with large black text on a white background will usually make this possible)
  • Take the time to get comfortable with your material in advance, so you can treat bulleted slides as you would bulleted note cards, using them only to keep you on your intended path

5. There’s a Friendly Face

If you’re the scheduled speaker/presenter, show up early and meet as many people as you can. Making connections beforehand will help you feel as though you’re speaking to friends, not strangers.

As you look out into the crowd, know that there’s always going to be someone who appears to be judging you – sitting with arms folded, brow furrowed and wearing a skeptical look. Don’t let this throw you – you have no idea what this person is really thinking (I often sit in an audience with arms folded, simply for back comfort). As you speak, try not to focus your attention on anyone that makes you feel substandard or self-conscious. Remember, there will also be a fan – smiling and nodding, with eyes fixated on you. You’ll never convert the seeming skeptic, so look to your “fans” instead. Let their positive energy be your fuel.


Much as an irritating grain of sand forms the basis of a pearl, so can discomfort yield personal growth. Step outside of your comfort zone, especially if you’ve never presented. Cross that bridge and watch it get easier each and every time.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882, Poet and Essayist