Words of Wisdom: You Are Not Alone

Breanne Tepler

Last week, I attended my daughter’s day care Christmas program. The owner of the day care got up to the podium and started by saying how fearful she was to speak in front of everyone. She warned us that she may turn her back to us at some point in order to be able to finish what she was saying. We were supportive and rooting for her to get through. There were several pauses, lots of emotion and towards the end she did, in fact, turn around to finish her remarks with her back facing us.

I have heard that many people would rather die than speak in front of a crowd. I have sympathy for those that feel that way. Nonetheless, it’s hard for me to understand. Ever since I was a little child I loved speaking in front of others. I love to sing and dance and speak in front of crowds. The bigger the crowd the better. It’s a thrill for me to capture the attention of a whole room full of people, but I understand I am in the minority with this.

People have asked me, “How do you do that with such ease?” Maybe I was born with this ability, but I believe a part of it is a skill that can be learned and developed. I would be lying if I said I was never uncomfortable. I’ve had to give some very emotional presentations, like the time I read my victim’s impact statement on behalf of my family while sitting next to my brother’s murderer in a courtroom. I have presented to very large groups at big events like that time I presented an award at the Annual Chamber Dinner to a room of 1,300 attendees. Emotional content and size of audience can impact the nerves of anyone– even me.

Whether you are a seasoned public speaker or a person who would rather die than speak in front of a crowd, the following tips can help you improve your public speaking:

Prepare your statement. When I read my victim’s impact statement in court I knew that I would have a big ol’ lump of emotion at the back of my throat, and possibly tears streaming down my cheeks. So, I prepared what I was going to say. I rehearsed it at home several times out loud to make sure that it was clear and made sense. I wanted my words to be heard. Also, if it’s something emotional, it is appropriate (if you need) to look down at your prepared statement the entire time so long as you speak clearly into the microphone. People will understand if you do not want to look up.

Pretend to make eye contact. When presenting, eye contact can engage the audience in a way that keeps their attention and helps them to remember what you’re saying. If you want impact, make eye contact. I’m a musician and I need to memorize the lyrics of about 50 songs for each show. If I make eye contact with someone during a song, I could lose my place and forget the words. So, instead, I look between the heads of people or at other facial features like eyes or noses. I move my eyes around the room not focusing on anything clearly. If making eye contact makes you nervous, look at foreheads or noses. You can also view the crowd in sections, not as individuals. Blurry blobs of people are less scary to look at than the eyes of a stranger looking right at you! The audience will feel connected and will be none the wiser.

Remember you are not alone. Public speaking is frightening to so many people that, even if you’re only speaking to a room of five people, chances are a couple of them share your fears. Know that they are supportive because you would be too. We’re not kids in elementary school who are going to giggle if something goes wrong. If you lose your place or stumble over words, we are going to be patient, kind,d and understanding. This thought can calm your nerves.

Breanne Tepler is an Admissions Counselor in the Office of Graduate & Extended Studies and a current student in the Master’s in Management program.