DETROIT (WXYZ) — Do you get butterflies just thinking about public speaking? Cold sweats? Shaky hands? An overall sense of dread? Well, you’re not alone.
What are the telltale signs of being nervous in front of an audience?
“Um…saying ‘um’ a lot,” said Laura Delafe with a chuckle. The Detroit businesswoman then added, “Sometimes maybe fidgeting.”
Kimberly Mallory works at Quicken Loans but also attends many women’s conferences.
“I think everyone has stage fright in the beginning,” said Mallory.
Monique Callahan-Jackson agrees.
She is a public speaking expert with the Michigan Association of Business Professionals of America.
She’s been coaching teens and young adults for 18 years.
Here are her top 5 ways to tackle your fear of public speaking:
KNOW YOUR TOPIC
“You should not memorize your topic,” said Callahan-Jackson. “You should have some bulleted items that you’re able to speak from and [that way] it really comes from the heart.”
If you are not well-versed about your subject matter, it’s game over! Knowing your content backwards and forwards is the most important way to conquer your nerves. Confidence comes with being familiar with your material.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Knowing your audience – both literally and figuratively – is important, too.
Appreciate what they’re expecting from you and who they represent.
If you’re talking about what you do for a living, for example, tailor your content to what would benefit or interest your audience the most.
You may have different points to share with a high school class versus a professional organization.
Also, Callahan-Jackson said when you take the time to chat with some of the audience members before your presentation, that can give you a few familiar faces in the crowd. Those moments can also provide some authentic anecdotes that you can sprinkle into your address when the moment strikes you.
USE BREATHING TECHNIQUES
When you’re backstage or preparing for your moment in the spotlight, take some time to take a deep breath… or two… or three.
“It just gives you a sense of calmness,” said Callahan-Jackson.
The meditative aspect of deep breathing can help slow down your heart rate and settle your nerves -- allowing you to better focus on the task at hand.
Rushing in at the last minute is the last thing you need before a public speaking engagement.
If you get there early, it’ll pay dividends.
“You want to get to know your venue. You want to look at the lighting and make sure you have any type of digital media production that that works,” said Callahan-Jackson. “You also want to make sure that you try out your microphone.”
Sometimes the echo in a large space can throw even the best speakers if they’ve never dealt with that before.
You’ll want to make sure there is no feedback that will throw you.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Do more than just read through your material a few times.
Practice in front of a mirror. Practice before your family and friends. Accept constructive criticism.
“You can deal with any ‘pain points’ at this time,” said Callahan-Jackson.
Also, time it out with a stop-watch. Remember, in most cases the old adage ‘Less is more’ is true.
That’s why TED Talks are 18 minutes or less.
They’re long enough to share a few main points, but not too long for people to lose interest.
Another piece of advice from Callahan-Jackson is know the first free words you’re going to say and always deliver them looking into the audience…not looking down at your paper or notes.
“You want to make sure that you’re able to deliver and give that punch,” she said with a smile.
Alicia Smith is the weekday morning anchor at WXYZ in Detroit. Her “Living a Better Life” stories air each Tuesday at 6 a.m. & 4 p.m. on WXYZ-TV. If you have a story idea to share, please email her at
with “Living a Better Life” in the subject line.