Can you overcome fear of public speaking? Y.E.S.

Aaron Williamson, The Daily Record Newswire

“Churchill wrote his own speeches. When a leader does that, he becomes emotionally invested with his utterances … If Churchill had had a speech writer in 1940, Britain would be speaking German today.”  Former presidential speechwriter James C. Hume

You’re not Winston Churchill -- neither am I. For many of you reading this, the mere thought of giving a big speech is a nightmare. Call it glossophobia (the fear of public speaking), or stage fright. Some people fear public speaking more than death. It can cause a panicky feeling, and physical sickness, including nausea. It’s estimated that the fight-or-flight caused, stress-induced, nervous anxiety is experienced in some way by 75 percent of us.

In the face of that fear, can you realistically improve your public speaking skills and, therefore, boost your bottom line? The answer is: Y.E.S. Growing profits requires business leadership, and leading can demand fearless public speaking. Just as painstaking preparation is an important investment in your upcoming business speech, putting in the time and effort to develop your public speaking skills is a direct investment into your company. That investment can yield sizable dividends to you and your firm. Public speaking is leadership’s pathway into all aspects of your business.

How do you become a less fearful speaker? The textbooks and experts all say the following: know your subject, practice, start with a bang, know your audience, and personalize your story. Those are all excellent pieces of advice that can help calm your nerves and build your confidence, but I’d like to supplement them with three lessons I have learned in my first full year in Toastmasters. The list forms the acronym Y.E.S., and yes, it is almost a requirement to coin an acronym when writing about business speeches:

1) YEAR-ROUND SPORT: Speechmaking is like learning an instrument or foreign language. I can’t practice it one week a year. It needs to be a year-round sport.

2) EXORBITANCE BORES: Picking an overly ambitious, technical topic distracts me from focusing on the delivery of a simple, memorable message. My speech turns into a snoozer.

3) SWEAT NOT THE DETAILS: Perfectionism makes my speeches stiff. If I make myself remember more than three main details just prior to a talk, I’m not loose.

Y.E.S. you can overcome your fear of public speaking, which will enhance your leadership effectiveness, and that can bolster your bottom line. I’ve learned this in my own work at KeyBank. Some of the top sales producers in the company’s Rocky Mountain Region are active members of an Idaho Toastmasters group, and it may be no coincidence. Indeed, one reason confident, inspirational leadership talent is such a rarity in corporate America may be that influential and visionary public speaking is also hard to find.

Writing a good business speech, and delivering it confidently, is like writing a solid business plan, and executing it successfully. Just as Winston Churchill’s speech writing became the allies’ winning strategy in World War II, your business speeches can become one of your firm’s profit generators. Fearless speaking can motivate employees to embrace a difficult workday technology change, convince investors to infuse much-needed capital onto your company’s balance sheet, or even inspire a tinkering engineer who then creates a breakthrough commercial idea for your firm.

Whether you begin telling jokes at a little comedy club’s open mic, start to regularly speak at church, or join one of more than 20 Boise Valley Toastmasters International clubs, working on your public speaking may earn you and your company a great return on your leadership investment. Again, three-fourths of us truly fear public speaking. You are not alone. Just remember, alleviating jitters and overcoming your speaking fear is a: 1) Year-round sport in which 2) Exorbitance bores and that you should 3) Sweat not the details. Y.E.S. you can.


Aaron Williamson served as the first president of the KeyBank of Idaho Toastmasters Club, which, in its first full year of existence, recently earned a Select Distinguished Club award for organization excellence.