Glossophobia. Sure, it’s a fun word, but the irony is that those affected rarely have fun with words. It’s the fear of public speaking, and various polls show that the condition affects anywhere from 25% to 77% of the population — a 2019 Chapman University survey pegged the number at 31% of Americans who are afraid to speak in public.
Kyle Murtagh knows the feeling well. After getting a psychology degree, he decided on a career change and figured that taking a public speaking course couldn’t hurt. During his first session, he was unable to provide a two-minute response to the prompt, instead offering just two quick words before sitting back down.
“It was a pretty devastating start to public speaking,” he says. “I didn’t like that feeling, so I thought it would be a skill worth investing in. No matter where you are or what you do, public speaking will find you.”
Fast forward to today, and Scotland-based Murtagh was crowned the 2021 Toastmasters European Champion of Public Speaking. Through his company, Confidence by Design, he creates programs for organizations and coaches individuals on public speaking and effective communication. He’s also the author of The Secrets of Successful Public Speakers: How to Improve Confidence and Credibility in Your Communication. In the book, Murtagh offers a solid foundation for becoming a successful public speaker, from gaining the courage to speak up in the first place to employing specific strategies during a speech or presentation.
The point is: If you need help speaking in public, he’s your guy. Below he shares a handful of practical tips — including some easy-to-remember acronyms — that you can enlist for yourself.
4 PUBLIC SPEAKING TIPS
1. Use the fear
Sweaty palms, butterflies, dry mouth. These are symptoms of being anxious, but they’re also signs that you’re excited. Use that fact to reframe the feeling, suggests Murtagh. “View it as you being ready for what’s coming up. When you’re fully locked in, you perform better.”
2. SEO: Smile, Eye Contact, and Open
Smile at the audience, and they'll smile back at you, says Murtagh. It shows the audience that you want to be there and want to share what you’re saying. From there, find the right amount of eye contact — the sweet spot is about 2–3 seconds of direct eye contact before moving onto the next person. Finally, Murtagh advises that you keep your body language open. “When people get nervous, they will minimize themselves, with a narrow stance and shoulders, and by bringing their hands across their body for protection.” Go the opposite route, keeping your stance and body open to your audience.
3. TTV: Tonality, Tempo, and Volume
Remember this trio to keep from speaking in a monotone manner. Tonality is the meaning behind your words, and tone can be deftly used to touch the audience’s emotions. Tempo is the speed in which you speak (speed up to lift the energy, slow down to make an emphatic point, or pause for effect). And volume is, of course, volume. Speak quietly to draw the audience in, or turn things up to grab their attention.
4. Prepare for what’s next
Before your speech, Murtagh suggests thinking about how you’ll react if something goes wrong. Maybe your slideshow cuts off mid-presentation, or a joke doesn’t land, or your mind goes blank. Hey, it happens. “Have a plan of action,” says Murtagh. “Take a pause while you get back on track, or ask the audience a question to give yourself time to get composed.” By preparing for such hurdles beforehand, you’ll be less flustered in the moment and be able to rise above the setback.