Too scared for words?

Learn how to give stage fright the boot

Franchella Slater was always sociable and outgoing. So when she was asked to make a public speaking appearance as a high school senior in 1990, she thought it would be a breeze. After walking onstage and turning to face the audience of 400 people, “I went into a state of shock,” she recalls. Aside from the racing heartbeat and shaking hands, “the words on my note cards became a blur, and I skipped lines of my speech.”

As a student at Clark Atlanta University, Slater resolved to beat her phobia by taking a public speaking class. She learned how to calm anxiety, control her breathing, project her voice and other speaking strategies. “Instead of visually panning over the entire crowd, I focus on inanimate objects-an empty chair or a plant-in the back of the room.”

Today, Slater, 25, speaks regularly as president of Slater Communications, a New York City-based public relations firm and as an advisory board member for the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. “The ability to speak confidently in public is crucial to professional and personal success,” says Ron St. John, a communication instructor at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. “If you can speak with integrity in a style that engages your listeners, you can accomplish just about anything.”

Whether you take a class like Slater did or join a public speaking development organization such as Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org), these essential pointers from St. John can help you begin to overcome stage fright and deliver winning speeches:

  • Reduce your fear of the audience. Visualize the people as equals on “your team,” who have come to hear what you have to say.
  • Be well prepared. Do your research and have a clear mental outline of what you want to say. You’ll feel more relaxed and sure of yourself when you have all the bases covered.
  • Have a backup plan. For example, write out important points on note cards. Refer to them to refresh your memory if you have a mental lapse.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Deliver your speech to friends, roommates or family members as if it were actually speech day. For example, if you want to sound energetic and enthusiastic, rehearse sounding that way.

Check out these books on public speaking:
What to Say When You’re Dying on the Platform: A Complete Resource for Speakers, Trainers and Executives by Lilly Walters
McGraw-Hill; $14.95.

The Vocal Advantage by Jeffrey Jacobi
Prentice-Hall Trade; $39.95.
101 Ways to Captivate a Business Audience by Sue Gaulke
AMACOM; $15.95.

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