Perhaps you recall the old Jerry Seinfeld joke in which he observed, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than presenting the eulogy.”

While it is debatable whether public speaking (aka “stage fright”) ranks number one among our fears, a couple of things are certain:

1 |  Public speaking causes a great deal of anxiety, stress and fear for a large percentage of small business owners and managers.

2 | Speaking before groups is part of the job for many of those who own and run small businesses.

If, stage fright is keeping you from doing your best in front of an audience of any size, here are seven tips that can help you overcome your discomfort.


1 | Stop thinking the presentation is about you or your product. The presentation is about the people in your audience, and their needs and fears

Publisher and presenter extraordinaire Kathy Sierra says that the worst thing to do if you are trying to improve as a presenter is to focus on your presentation skills. If you do, you’ll be focusing on YOU, rather than on the only thing that matters: The person you are presenting to.

2 | Start with a question you know the audience wants to ask

Raised hands in class of university

Most people will tell you the best part of a presentation is the Q&A session that comes at the end. So why wait? Use questions and answers as the framework of your presentation. If you do this, you don’t have to worry about what questions might be asked–or how the questions might be posed. Chances are, you’ll answer the questions the audience members might have and, if not, the questions will likely be simple follow-ups to the questions you have already answered.

3 | Focus on the challenges that keep the people you’re presenting to awake at night? What can you share that will help them rest easier?

If you are in the audience during a presentation, which of these would you find more compelling and helpful: (1) Charts, graphs and bullet points outlining every detail, no matter how small, of the presenter’s product or service, or (2) A presenter who is describing a dilemma you are experiencing and sharing with you how others have successfully overcome the dilemma. (Note: If you chose #1, you probably shouldn’t be making presentations.)

4 | Look marvelous


(Photo via

You’ll feel more confident if your presentation looks good, and you look good, as well. Remember the words of the caricature impersonation of Fernando Lamas performed by Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live, “It’s better to look good than to feel good and darling: You. Look. Marvelous.”

5 | Relax beforehand

Don’t be that presenter who waits until the night before to throw something together. You’ll end up foregoing the one thing you need  most before you present: rest. Get your preparation done in time so that you can sleep well and, if at all possible, be able to go for a walk or some other light physical activity before your presentation.

6 | Hydrate

Staying hydrated is necessary. Have you ever noticed a professional deliver a speech? They always carry water. If you aren’t hydrated properly you will have a dry throat that can act like a mute button on your voice. (Note: Drinking lots of water beforehand, along with the stress, may cause you to take several trips to the restroom before a presentation. Don’t worry. That urge will disappear once you start presenting.)

7 | Get experience


(Photo via JohnDiew0107 on Flickr)

Although all of these tips can be helpful, you must do one more thing that is required to improve any skill: practice, practice, practice. But you are not alone. Chances are, there’s a local chapter of Toastmasters nearby. Join it and gain the warm and positive support of others who, like you, are seeking to improve their speaking skills and to gain more confidence in front of an audience.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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