Fear of Public Speaking

I wanted to close the loop on an issue that we discussed during the session Sasha and I did on public speaking in Orlando. I mentioned the excellent Mark Twain quote, “There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous. 2. Liars.” Fear of public speaking is exceptionally common, but it cannot be an excuse. The reality is that to some extent or another, we have to get past it in our profession, because at a minimum, court testimony is public speaking. You can’t do this work without flexing some public speaking muscle.

Before you write this off as being easy for me to say because it all comes quite naturally for me, let’s put that fallacy to rest right now. Unlike my spouse, public speaking is not a skill that comes naturally for me at all. In fact I am a hard-core introvert, I am shy by nature, and getting up in front of an audience still requires some level of mental gymnastics every single time. I have cultivated the ability to get a handle on my stage fright because my living depends on it, but it’s taken several decades to get me to the place where I am today. A combination of muscle-memory, ritual, and meditation is now what allows me to look (and quickly get) at ease in front of an audience.

I share this not to elicit any sort of sympathy, but to underscore the notion that public speaking is a skill that can be developed, and stage fright is something that can be conquered, to some extent or another. Many people have tells that will belie their nerves (my hands always shake for the 1st couple minutes, no matter what–I arrange for lavalier microphones so I don’t give myself away because there’s nothing I can do about that; the back of Sasha’s neck gets red and blotchy, regardless of how comfortable she feels otherwise). I can’t help you with those. But I can encourage you to keep working away at that obstacle that makes you feel like public speaking isn’t your bag or that voice in your head that talks you into believing you’re going to blow it when you open your mouth to speak on the stand. Understand you’re not alone in this struggle; that there is a very real thing happening internally; and there are actually some things you may be able to do to make it better.

We didn’t get the opportunity to show this brief TEDEd video about stage fright during our session, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a really wonderful animation about what happens physiologically, and some potential strategies to counter it:


And for those who are looking for a great book on presenting, the one we always recommend is Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker. Totally worth your time if you present with any kind of frequency or if you’re just a student of the game.

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5 replies on “Fear of Public Speaking”

Jenifer (and any other readers) –
Great job during this session! I thought about this during your session, but didn’t have time to bring it up. Whether you are terrified of public speaking or not, I highly suggest Toastmasters (or a similar group). I joined about a year ago, and the majority of people who join, do so because of a fear of public speaking. It allows you to improve your skills in a constructive, friendly setting (and the speeches are short – 5-7 minutes so you only have to “endure” it for a short time). Anyone who is interested can find a club near them at


I would never know you are/were an introvert! This is very valuable information. Thank you for your honesty and telling us about the things we cannot see. Being REAL is good!

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