Tracey Godwin dissect and address the actual fears of Public Speaking

Tracey Godwin – Dissect and Address the Actual Fears of Public Speaking


This weeks guest blogger is Tracy Goodwin The Red Sweater Lady. Tracy currently runs Captivate the Room which is presentation skills coaching for live and online speaking.


Beth Was Ready to Quit Her Job


I received an email from a woman, we’ll call her Beth.  She contacted me from a post I had made about accent reduction.  While my primary business is in the area of presentation skills coaching and voice and speaking improvement, I often times take on clients that have the desire to reduce their accents to further their business success.


Beth came to me about 8 weeks ago. When Beth found me she was ready to quit her job, a nice position as a department manager, which I begged her not to do.  The day she came in for her assessment, I learned that while she had been in this position for a decent length of time, she most recently had been required to make a number of presentations.  Beth was not only terrified of public speaking but she believed she could not do it and was a big failure because of that. In addition to the general blanket statement fear of public speaking she was also familiar with the incredible presentation skills of her predecessor and struggling with a heavy accent. No matter the format, the content, the size of the audience, formal or not, Beth was so terrified of public speaking, giving presentations that she was willing to quit a job she loved and was very good at, not to mention a job that paid a nice salary.  Beth’s fear of public speaking was intense but I’d seen this type of fear on many occasions in the past.


 The First Day – There is Hope!


The first day I met Beth, her initial consultation I assured her that I could help her, that was all she needed to know at the time that there was hope.  Beth literally cried in our first meeting, because she truly believed there was no hope.  I made an assessment in our first meeting based on what I thought she needed, coupled with what she thought she needed and then I created a plan to make it happen.  It was very clear to me that in addition to tackling her intense fear of public speaking, I also had to address her disbelief in her ability to do a presentation and to boost her very low self-confidence.


The first thing I do with a client like Beth, one who struggles with extreme fear of public speaking, is to dissect and address the actual fears.  Studies have been done on the most often recorded fears of public speaking and some of Beth’s were similar. After all, public speaking is one the all time biggest fears listed by people across the globe.


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I started with an in depth conversation with Beth about what her fears were, if she could pin point them. Beth knew exactly what she was afraid of with regards to speaking.


As I cover each fear, I like to teach my clients that indeed, those fears could become reality, BUT, there are strategies they can put in place to help ensure that the chance of those fears really occurring becomes minimal. It’s when a client does not have any strategy or belief that maybe this won’t happen, that they focus only on the fear and then yes, it usually happens.


One of Beth’s fears was, “what will people think” they dialogue for that fear includes a lengthy discussion on how that fear is 99% based on a fear in our head that is not real in our audiences head. I pointed out to Beth that the majority of the audience would not be thinking what she was thinking and how damaging it could be to her if, while in mid-presentation she started thinking about what they were thinking. It was at this time in the conversation I pointed out something I believe to be very true to her. Most people are relatively consumed with thinking about themselves, that they are not racking up to much thought on good, bad or indifference with a speaker. Harsh words, but decently true.


So, we laid out all of Beth’s fears, which honestly, were not that many and pretty typical of someone who fears public speaking. Beth’s fears included:


  • What if I mess up?
  • What if I can’t remember how to use my notes and forget important information?
  • What if everyone thinks I’m bad and compares me to my predecessor who was a great presenter?
  • What if I can’t get the words in my head out of my mouth?


The truth was, every one of these things had happened to Beth before, a number of times and it paralyzed her.  I knew self-confidence was going to be a big issue with her and I needed to help restore it.  Most often, it has been my experience that self-confidence plays a huge part in fear of public speaking.


So, one by one we went to work dispelling and creating a plan for each fear.


Remove the Power of the Fear


The first fear we went after was her fear of messing up. First and foremost I needed to remove the power of that fear. Yes, you may mess up, how devastating would that be? Not to minimize the fear but to put it in perspective, it’s not death, it’s not loosing your job, a car accident, a health issue. It’s highly likely to get on the other side of messing up in a public speech and be okay, actually even learn how to do it better next time.


Beth and I discussed worse case scenarios for messing up and she gained a new perspective on just how catastrophic messing up really was.

Next, we created a strategy which included a practice plan, a delivery strategy and a few mantras that promoted success.  I also worked with her on recovery strategies if she did mess up.  One, you stop, you breath, you tell your audience the truth, not that you totally messed up, but that you need a minute.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “excuse me, I believe I need to rephrase that”, “wait, I need to collect my thoughts for a moment” or something to that effect.

I also discussed with Beth just how important it was to not think about what the audience was thinking while she was speaking. Nothing can de-rail a speaker faster than to start thinking about how poorly he/she is doing while giving a speech. In addition, I told Beth that she needed to try and focus on the people in the room that were giving her positive feedback in the form of smiles, nodding their head in agreement. I told her to make sure and not focus on the person that was scowling or zoning out because it was highly possible that those non-verbal reactions had nothing to do with her anyway.




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Beth’s Big Issue



Next fear, and this was a big one for her, what if I can’t follow my notes and forget important information.  Notes were a big issue for Beth.  In the past, the strategies that she had used for delivering content, her notes, had not worked, at all.  The problem was, I quickly figured out, was that Beth was trying to deliver presentations using the same style as her predecessor, and that style did not work for her.  We went through all possible options available to her for notes to deliver from and then we just started with one and had a plan to try them all until we found the one that worked best for her. I have seen far to many instructors say you have to do it one way or the other. I believe it is essential to find what works for you, because what works for one, may not work at all for another when it comes to delivery notes.


Our first attempt included a technique that was more scripted, primarily because this is what she thought would work the best for her. I then helped her craft her speech on these notes, with bullet points and then she tried this technique out at her next presentations. I could not wait for the report, but alas, this technique did not work for her after all. Beth got lost in the content, lost her place in the script a number of times and even forgot to look down on occasion.


So, we moved on to the next strategy which was create index cards with short phrases of key words by topic that would trigger information that she knew a lot about.  It turned out, this technique worked very well for her because all she really needed were memory cues.  Victory!  I’ve always believed each person needs to figure out what style works for them. YAY! Beth had a success under her belt which is what I really needed to happen to help build her self-confidence so she would start believing she could do this.


Creating Her Own Style


Next up, a tough one, what if everyone thinks I’m bad and not good at giving presentations like my predecessor.  Well, fear was even more tied into her self-confidence than the other two.  First, I had to help her understand that she was not her former boss and she needed to create a style of her own.  She was very different and that was a good thing, and that we needed to focus on her strengths and create “her” style instead of her constant efforts to be “him”.  I got her on board with this idea and we went to work creating the style that best represented what she brought to the table.  I spent a great deal of time pointing out all the great things she brought to the table, like her incredible skill with data and visuals.  In her next presentation she focused on her strengths, what she was good at and began to settle into her new style and used index cards with keyword phrases.  Another victory for her!  After this speech, for the first time ever I heard her say, “It actually went pretty well”.  This was huge considering every other speech she had reported was “really bad” or “horrible”.

Help….I Cant Speak!!!


Great! Now, it was time to tackle Beth’s last fear which was, what if I can’t get the words in my head out of my mouth.  I hear this fear from almost every client I work worth and that’s whether they are afraid of public speaking or not. Now, with Beth, just like with the other fears we had already address, this fear was very big for her as she struggled to communicate what was in her head in writing and speaking and had been this way for many, many years. I might add that while we are in America, Beth, is from another country and while she has a moderate accent her English is excellent.


It became immediately clear to me how very important it was for me to teach her how to say exactly what she was thinking and then re-craft the words, instead of trying to figure out the best way to craft the words in her head before she let them out of her mouth. If we approached this fear that way, well, Beth would never say anything out of fear!  Once we got the thoughts out of her head, then we could start cultivating the best ways to re-craft them and then basically put them back for a redo when she made the presentation.


I might add that Beth is excellent at her job, very excellent in fact, but because she has been so afraid of what people are going to think or say about her speaking for so long that she has created a major block.  In fact, it was almost impossible for her to get any words out of her head because she has so strongly convinced herself that her words will come out wrong or bad.  But, by working through the other three fears first, her self-confidence was already improving so she was more prime to believe that maybe she did have something to say that was worth something and that maybe she could get the words out.

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This approach meant that Beth would tell me what she wanted to say, we’d write it down, kind of like a story, then re-craft the dialogue to make it sound more like how she wanted and then pull out bullet points and place them on cards and then she was ready to go.


After a few tries with that type of strategy, Beth started to believe that she did, in fact know what she was talking about and that maybe, just maybe, she really could communicate that. Beth’s last presentation was successful. I got positive feedback from her which was awesome. But for me, the best part is for Beth to see that those fears that paralyzed her were really just that, fears, something to look at, create a solution for and move on. Beth is not finished yet, she will work with me a little longer, but she has made the most amazing strides and is no longer spending sleepless nights before presentations and then beating herself up after them. Beth has released her fears and now places her focus and energy on creating strategies that work and help her give better presentations. It is by addressing Beth’s fears, looking at worse case scenarios and then creating solutions, that we have been able to get her past a major hurdle; her desire to quit her job because of her terror of presentations.

It is possible to get past your fear of public speaking and craft and deliver amazing and captivating presentations, it’s all in finding a technique that works for you and applying it.


Guest Blogger Bio


Tracy Goodwin

Captive the Room with the Red Sweater Lady


Tracy Goodwin is known around the globe as The Red Sweater Lady for her extensive collection of communication training videos. Tracy currently runs Captivate the Room which is presentation skills coaching for live and online speaking. For more information email


If you would like to guest blog, contact me

Chris Delaney NLP Life Coach, Hypnotherapist and Career Advisor is available for booking for One to One Private Sessions, Group Training Sessions and Public Speaking Events


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Chris Delaney NLP Life Coach, Hypnotherapist and Career Advisor is available for booking for One to One Private Sessions, Group Training Sessions and Public Speaking Events

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