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Parachuting? Or Public Speaking?

Expert tips for people who'd rather go parachuting than make a speech....

Considering that humans spend a lot of time talking, it’s amazing to think that c.75% of us have a fear of public speaking, and about 20% of us may have a full-blown phobia: for these people, the fear of talking in front of a group is significant enough to cause problems in work, school, or in social settings.

I don’t mean to sound smug, but I’m lucky: I’ve learned to look forward to public speaking, and have done everything, from appear on TV fronting controversial issues, to stand-up comedy in the New Zealand International Comedy Festival: when I’m talking to a group, I’m in my happy place.

But I haven’t always been this confident: here are a few tips I’ve learned to apply over the past 30 years, and more recently as a coach and hypnotherapist specialising in speaking-related anxiety:

  • when you’ve written down your speech (which is important if you’re nervous), start taking words out until your points are as concise as possible.

  • go through your edited speech and identify the emotions that you want your audience to feel at each key stage: making an emotional connection with your audience is absolutely key to winning them over

  • don’t use slides with words or numbers on them: use images that convey the emotion you need your audience to feel

  • know your subject: learn what you’re going to say, so that you don’t just read your speech out. This way, you’ll be able to make eye contact with your audience (see next point)

  • make eye contact with a different member of your audience each time you make a new point: don’t stare at one person the whole time or look down at your notes too often

  • try to treat every speech like a story: every point can be framed that way.

  • don’t start your speech by introducing yourself and giving a precis of your CV: identify what you need from your audience and start with a call to action e.g. “today I’m asking for your approval to invest in a programme that will transform our customer experience.”

  • or, start your speech like a story by saying, "imagine if there was a simple way we could halve the time it takes our customers to do business with us. That would be great wouldn't it?". If you can get nods from your audience there, you've already got their buy-in!

  • be careful of “ums” and “ahs” and learn to use pauses: silence is powerful

  • be your authentic self: don’t use a formulaic approach

  • be optimistic and visualise yourself doing a brilliant job

  • if you think you are overly fearful or anxious, seek help from a colleague, friend or expert: everyone’s been there; well at least 75% of us have!

Suzanne Wolton is a professional director, visionary strategist, coach, hypnotherapist specialising in business and public speaking, and Managing Director of Communication Counts NZ.

To contact Suzanne, email


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