Think you’re alone in your public speaking fears? These entrepreneurs give their take on how to handle one of life’s scariest challenges.
Preston Gitlin / ComedyWire
"I conquered my fear of public speaking by developing a sense of humor. The butterflies--even to this day--don't fully go away until I get that first laugh. I try to lighten up any speech. When I was in college, I took a public speaking course, and even dipped my toes into the stand-up scene. When I was 19, I opened for Dane Cook. I still remember how encouraging he was and how he told me to get on stage every night. Once that first laugh comes, I feel like I developed a relationship with the audience and they actually wanted me to be there."
Mike Belsito / DHS Group
"For me, the best way to get over the fact that hundreds of people are staring at me was to just do it. Over, and over, and over again. The first few times were very stressful. But now, it really isn't something that bothers me at all. In fact, I actually enjoy it. But there would be no way I would feel the way I do if it wasn't for those first few awkward, nerve-racking, presentations."
Amit Patel / Quo
"I am probably still conquering this task given I haven't done much of it. The fear is there but I like to study the crowd in advance and tailor my presentation accordingly. My use of hands and pacing helps me be more confident in conveying my message. I tend to feel good and forget about everything else when I practice alone in my bathroom. The stage is my bathroom at the end of the day."
Allison Halco-Dranuski / FashionablyCLE
"Any time I have to do any form of public speaking, I practice like crazy! It doesn't matter if I end up practicing to myself, to my family, to my Toastmasters group - just getting comfortable with the content of the speech makes a world of difference! That way, if I do make a mistake giving the speech, I can keep moving through my content without my audience even noticing the flub."
Deb Stanzak / Ronwear
"I really never had a fear of talking to people, but of course everybody gets a little bit nervous when they're in front of a lot of people. And I think at some point during some speech class I had either in high school or college I realized that only one person individually can see me so I just pretend that there's only one person looking at me just the way I would be sitting in an audience looking at the speaker. So that kind of gets me through it."
Howard Sobel / Crooked River Coffee
"Sometimes I talk myself into believing I know more about the subject than anyone in the room. And then I give myself permission to start talking. If that doesn't work, I'll try self-degrading humor to reduce distance from audience, easing my discomfort."
Jason Therrien / ThunderTech
"I have been doing public speaking for a while and my main fear I have is not getting up on stage, but instead it’s wondering if I’m being engaging and interesting enough. I try to tell stories and show whom I really am by putting something that shows I’m human and relatable to the audience. I’ll test these stories to see which ones work best over time."
Ethan Holmes / Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce
"The best way to overcome the fear of public speaking is by putting yourself out there. I had an issue with eye contact and "ums" and "stuttering" but the more I presented and practiced, the better I became. It's also important to feed off your audience and stay engaged and interactive in your presentation."
Lee Chilcothe / Lit Cleveland
"I applied to Accelerate NEO, the civic pitch competition hosted by Leadership Cleveland. Through this Shark Tank-like experience, I had to not only develop and deliver a short pitch for my idea, but rehearse it and incorporate feedback. We didn't win, but we received lots of positive encouragement and were able to successfully implement our idea. This experience pretty much forced me to just do it."
Betsy Capes / Capes Coaching
"Once I realized that the audience just wants me to be me, what helps me get there is imagining that I’m talking to my best friend, rather than a group of strangers. When you’re having a conversation with someone that you know loves you and withholds judgment, you can more easily connect to your authentic self."
Aaron Pike / StudioStick
"Two common traits an experienced public speaker demonstrates are confidence and personality. I like to think of public speaking as an adventure. My approach is to view the audience as a bunch of new friends who are excited to learn more about me."
Ian Kalman / Bald Guy Greetings
"I've heard that you're supposed to picture the audience naked, so you feel more comfortable while speaking, but that doesn't really work for me. Because then I get super self-conscience that everyone is looking at me, like..."Why is this idiot fully dressed? Does he think he's better than us?”
My best advice is to open with a joke. It'll disarm the audience and put everyone at ease. Even if it's a bad joke, it works. It relaxes people. If I can offer you a second piece of advice it is don't open with a racist joke. That never works."
Matt Mayberry / Matt Mayberry Enterprises
"One of the best ways to defeat being nervous is to focus on adding as much value to the audience as you possibly can. When you direct all of your focus and energy towards helping them, you will find your nerves completely diminish. The best advice I have for anyone is to not only be authentic, but focus on the audience, not yourself."
Mike Faga / StudioMFP
"When I first started public speaking, it was tough; I always got nervous about completely irrational things. “Would they like what I had to say? Would they approve of me? Will I mess up?” And all of those things didn’t actually matter. They wanted me to speak, I was the “expert” per se, or the voice they were looking for. So of course they would approve. Of course they would like what I had to say, because they already wanted me to speak. After knowing that, it became easier. Most of the time, my nervousness came from a reason I couldn’t even put a name to. I was just nervous. But, it didn’t matter because I was validated before I even walked on stage. That is how I got over my fear of public speaking. The rest is just doing it over and over to get comfortable."
Eric Holtclaw / Serial Entrepreneur
"Joining Toastmasters was the key to overcoming my anxieties around public speaking. Presenting in a safe room and receiving immediate feedback from other invested members is an awesome way to “learn on the fly”. And while presenting was hugely beneficial, watching others’ techniques and seeing their evaluations was just as significant. Groups like Toastmasters are perfect for testing new material and making sure it is on point before a big presentation."
Alison Tinlin / Plans and Presents
"I am fine with speaking in front of a few people, but public speaking in front of a large audience still rattles my nerves. I usually have bullet points when doing speaking engagements to give me a nudge, but still prefer smaller groups. Maybe it's one of those things you never get used to!"
Kendall Embrescia-Hridel / Squirt & Skootch
"Nervous energy is pure energy that can be honed and projected out into the world purposefully, wholeheartedly, all while having a lot of fun and experiencing loads of joy. I take the nervous and anxious energy, and manipulate them however necessary to bring a truly heartfelt, authentic and genuine performance."
Brandi Hammerstone / All Events Planned
"I’ve found that speaking about thing that I’m knowledgeable and passionate about allow me to speak clearly, confidently and comfortably in front of any size crowd. When I don’t have the option to speak only on that which I love, I have learned to at least be as well informed and educated as I can be in regards to what I’m speaking about so that I can again feel good about what I have to say. Luckily, I love what I do, love my profession and just as well, love the people I get to work with, so typically I’m only speaking on things that I love!"
Sandy Malone / Sandy Malone Weddings
"Talk to the audience as though they were your friends, and don’t be afraid to let your personality and sense of humor show, when appropriate. It’s hard to get up and speak in front of a room of strangers and that picturing them in their undies trick never worked for me. Speak as though everybody will agree with what you’re saying – it’s much less scary than wondering what their reactions may be."
Raquel Eatmon / RaquelEatmon.com
I handle my public speaking fear by first acknowledging it and second, walking through it. My life experiences have proven to me that success is always on the other side of the fear. Each morning I try to "eat the frog" and it sets up a relatively easy day thereafter.