Bringing Compelling Stories to Life

5 keys to speaking with confidence


Jerry Seinfeld once said “People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the coffin than reading the eulogy”.


While this is a great joke, it is not actually that far from the truth. I worked with one leader years ago, and in building her personal story she had a breakthrough. In fact, it was so powerful that she wanted to give me a gift to show her appreciation. I thanked her and said what I would like is for her to agree to share her story if ever I asked her. She agreed.


About a month later, I was running a kick-off event for her company. As my introduction, I asked her to share her story. This was her worst nightmare as she had a fear of public speaking and would be doing so in front of 150 of her peers. She did everything possible to try and get out of it but I wouldn’t let her. Before she took the stage, she was sweating, shaking and on the verge of a full blown panic attack.


In order to overcome a fear of speaking or to simply ensure you can engage your audience effectively, there are 5 critical things you can do:


  1. Own the space

A great way to set yourself up for success is to make sure the room is ready to hear you. A great way to do this is by getting the audience to do something. One of my favourite things is to get people to get up and move or to start by asking my audience a question. What this does is demonstrate that you own the space.


  1. Call out the elephant early

Often there can be something that makes the speaker uncomfortable so they will try and avoid it. It could be that you haven’t spoken to an audience this size or you could have a foreign accent. Whatever it is, call it out early so that you remove it as a potential obstacle. It can also help build rapport with your audience.


  1. Show, don’t tell

When you feel uncertain, that can be a desire to create certainty in your content. This can mean you rely heavily on facts or anecdotes and cause you to disconnect from your audience. Instead, show people what you are talking about. This can be done by using personal experiences or stories and it enables the audience to gain the insight rather than you telling them.


  1. Have notes, not a speech

Another common mistake leaders make is they have their presentation written out and often end up standing in front of an audience reading. This creates a separation with the audience. Instead, have notes that you can refer to that will keep you on track, and focus on connecting with the audience.


  1. Relive, don’t retell

The most effective way to engage an audience is to make them feel like they are part of the story and that they are experiencing it in the moment. You can achieve this by telling it like it’s the first time and you are reliving the story. This will put your audience in the story and make them feel like they are living the story with you and keep them engaged.


Despite her panic at having to take the stage, this leader used these techniques to push through her fear and managed to deliver her story to the group. It wasn’t perfect, and she was extremely vulnerable which actually helped her connect with the audience. At the end of it she received a standing ovation and this ended up being a pivotal moment for her, where she not only overcame her fear, but it launched her career on a new trajectory.


By employing these five techniques when presenting to an audience, you may not only overcome a fear of presenting, but you just may feel better about reading a eulogy one day.