public speaking mastery

Overcome the fears and anxieties and learn how to master public speaking skills to transform your business and your life

Table of Contents

How to boost your business


Everyone in business uses verbal communication on a regular basis for meetings, negotiations, and presentations.

Yet it’s true to say that not every business person is a confident speaker.

In this in-depth guide for public speaking we will go through (almost!) everything you need to know to build confidence and credibility so you can master speaking skills and raise your business to the level you deserve to reach.

Speaking really can be a superpower.

Imagine instantly improving and transforming your speaking style, simply by controlling your voice and body deliberately.

Imagine influencing and engaging your audience in the strongest way with messages are strong and engaging.

What would that mean to you personally and for your business success?

There are few business skills you can master that will raise your profile, grow your reputation and give you success in business, and in life.

And we know it can feel daunting.

Over the past two decades, our team at Confident Speak has worked with many people who could never imagine themselves standing up in front of a large room with an expectant audience.

And helped them do just that, with extraordinary results.

So if those skills are of interest to you in your career, let’s begin.

(Don't) Feel the Fear!

Overcoming the fear of public speaking

In the book Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun, the author shares one fact that I have to share with you, because it’s vital for anyone who might suffer from a fear of public speaking.

I’m sure you’ve heard or read this fact about public speaking, it goes something like this.

Did you know that people would rather die that speak in public?

So where has this popular fact come from?

Because I have to say that, personally, I’ve not heard of anyone taking their own life, jumping off a building or leaving a suicide note based on an upcoming presentation!

So where has this popular fact come from?

Well, the source appears to be a trivia book “Book of Lists”, by David Wallechinksy.

It includes a list of things that people were afraid of.

  1. Speaking in public before a group
  2. Heights
  3. Insects and bugs
  4. Financial problems
  5. Deep water
  6. Sickness
  7. Death
  8. Flying
  9. Loneliness
  10. Dogs

The problem with this? The fear of public speaking is a complete myth!


So how do we know it’s a myth?

Firstly, let’s start with the research process itself.

The research carried out by a team of market researchers who asked 3000 Americans a simple question.

What are you most afraid of?

They allowed them to write down as many answers as they wanted. There was no list to pick from, so the survey data was far from scientific.

Secondly, no information was provided about who these people were.

Therefore we have no way of knowing if these people were representative of the rest of us.

Let’s take a closer look at the top 10…

If you look at the list above – heights, deep water, death, sickness and flying – it’s probably safe to say that death should feature in the No. 1 spot!

The reality is that facts about the fear of speaking in public are often misleading because they are often quoted from people selling a service or product.

Most fear of public speaking comes from the fact that the speaker is selling something.

In addition, another factor is the frequency of the fear.

The truth is that when faced with a question like this, people tend to list fears of minor things they encounter in everyday life much more often than more fearsome but abstract experiences like dying.

After all, no-one has ever died and later told the fearful story, but we often experience fear, stress and anxiety in everyday situations — such as peering over a steep cliff, or finding a massive spider in the bath, or the fear of public speaking.

And the outcome is that because these are fairly normal, regular occurrences that happen to most of us at least occasionally, our anxiety levels only increase the next time we have to experience that thing.

Are you afraid of public speaking?

Rest assured that you’re not alone.

Fear of public speaking is more common than you may think. So common, in fact, that it has even been officially recognised as a phobia: glossophobia affects as many as 75% of us. Here we outline seven steps you can take towards reducing your fear of public speaking and wowing any audience.

Steps to overcoming your fear of public speaking


1. Stop panicking, start planning


The number one way to overcome a fear of public speaking — indeed, a fear of anything — is to consciously remove emotions from the equation and analyse the fear rationally.

It’s all in the planning! So take pen and paper in hand, and ask yourself these two quick questions:

  1. Why are you speaking in public?
  2. What do you want to achieve by the end of your talk?

Answering these two questions (don’t spare on the detail!) will set you on the road to overcoming your public speaking anxiety.

Once you do that, you can move on to spending the time required to understanding your audience and their needs and view of the world, and preparing your content for that audience.

This preparation will help you both to craft a message that engages your audience, and to achieve what you want from the presentation.

Once you’ve planned thoroughly, and are comfortable with your material, rehearse—aloud!—as often as you can.

2. Public speaking is about your audience, not you!


In my experience, through well over a decade of working with some of the most successful business men and women in the UK, Ireland and further afield to help them hone their speaking communications, I have learned one thing about the fear of public speaking.

Most people who suffer from this public speaking anxiety make one key mistake: their primary focus is on themselves and their fear of public speaking.

You must remember, however, that you are presenting to them.

It is their presentation. Without your audience, there is no presentation!

If you move the focus away from yourself and on to the audience, this will take the pressure off you.

3. So focus instead on your audience


Ask yourself:

  1. Who is my audience
  2. Why are they there?
  3. What is relevant to them?
  4. What questions are going through their minds?

Pondering these questions will help you quiet your own nerves about public speaking and tailor your content, message and delivery for the people who matter.

4. Talk to your audience (not at them!)


Think of your audience as your friends.

Use simple jargon free language in a conversational style.

It may even help to think of your audience as a single, friendly person, and speak directly to them.

This will help you calm your fear of public speaking when you get up on stage.

5. You’ve gotta keep breathing


Take the time to breathe deep inside your ribcage as opposed to high in the chest.

Breathing for public speaking takes practice but it works.

Working on your breath helps to reduce nerves and gain control.

6. The public does not see your fear


You need to think about this as soon as you walk into that room.

Be aware of how you walk, how you stand and how you “own the space”.

Slow everything down.

Think tall, stand tall, walk tall.

7. Think about what your voice is saying about you


Speak slowly and clearly and make every word count. If your voice lacks energy and emotion — your audience will tune out.

Ask yourself — what emotion do you want your audience to feel.

Interest? Excitement? Curiosity?

You then need to convey this emotion in your voice.

How to boost your business

How to build confidence and credibility

Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to feel more confident, credible, and engaged in all your business communications.

Craft a clear story


If you want to feel and look like a confident speaker, you’ve got to prepare and do your homework.

This means crafting a clear story that will engage people.
We are hard-wired to love hearing and telling stories so make sure your story is something your audience can relate to.

People who are perceived as being confident speakers are the best storytellers because they gain the trust of their audience.

This doesn’t mean you’re perfect.

It means that you are connected with your story in an emotional way.

And if you are emotionally connected to your story – there’s a better chance that your audience will be too.

Know your audience


You must know who you’re talking to before you craft your story. Take into account who your audience is and what their challenges might be.

If you don’t, you may as well be writing a love letter to “To Whom It May Concern”.

You will come across as a more confident speaker if you do your homework and know as much about your audience as possible.

If you’re a key note speaker, your basic story content may stay the same each time you deliver it.

But customize it for each audience by beginning it with something specific to that group of people. It will help you come across as a more empathetic, prepared, and confident speaker.



Breath is the cornerstone for all great communication.

A confident speaker knows that not all breath is created equal. Shallow breathing is far less useful to you than a deep, centered breath.

When you center your breath in your lower belly you also bring your focus and attention there. This is a place of power, strength, and balance.

When you breathe from the lower belly, you are more inclined to connect with calm, grounded feelings.

When you breathe into the upper chest and shoulder area, you are more likely to feel anxiety or panic.

How you breathe effects your physiology.

Your body breathes without your help to keep all your necessary functions ticking over.

But you can choose what kind of breath will fuel your communications.

Speaking with a strong, supported voice will help you look and feel like a confident speaker.

The quality of the breath and fuel you give your thoughts, voice, and choices will depend on where and how you breathe.

Rehearse that story!


Performers have a saying:

“Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And then rehearse some more.”

The words you write on the page are always going to be slightly different to the words you end up speaking out loud.

It’s the nature of transferring written word to spoken word.

Once you’ve mapped out your story, stand it up and start speaking it out loud. Every confident speaker knows that speaking your words aloud help you get the feel of the structure of your story and memorize the words.

As Bob Dylan says, “I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”

Film yourself


In order to become a more confident speaker, you have to get feedback on how you look and how you sound.

Your phone, tablet, or laptop are readily available sources of non-judgmental feedback.

Film yourself for 2-3 minutes, watch it back, tweak, and go again.

A good tip is to be specific about what it is you’re practicing each time you film yourself.

Am I focusing on my vocal delivery? My physical presence? Am I looking at the rhythm of my language?

The structure of the story?

The more specific you are, the more value you’ll get out of your practice time.


Take it live


Find one or two people you trust and get in front of them. To become a more confident speaker, treat this practice run as you would the real thing.

Begin your story as you would in front of the real audience and invest the same amount of passion and urgency into your performance as you would for a live audience.

Make the stakes high. The more real you make the trial run, the better prepared you’ll be for the real thing.

Becoming a more confident speaker means preparing yourself as much as possible for real-time stress.

Hard work + action = Confidence


Becoming a more confident speaker is a process.

Confidence is a combination of hard work, repetition, and having a clear plan of action.

As with any other endeavour, change happens step by step, a little at a time.

The trick is to create good habits and consistently make new choices that support your story, your voice, and your physical presence.

Becoming a confidence speaker starts with awareness about how you look and sound, whether or not this is serving your communications, and then making changes.

Know your story, breathe, and practice, practice, practice.

Your hard work will pay off and who knows … you may even start to enjoy it!

Learn from the best

Improve your public speaking skills with lessons from great actors

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Everyone needs a good role model, right?

Watching the best in their field, and learning from them, is a proven route to success. And the same is true when it comes to public speaking skills and becoming great public speakers.

Here we take a quick look at five of the best from the world of acting: Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, John Hurt & Benedict Cumberbatch.

So, what do they all have in common?

Of course, there are several things.

Yes, they are all British.

Yes, all male.

Yes, all accomplished actors.

They all also did their time on stage before making it on screen.

Knighthoods? Well, several of them do have one under their belt.

But here’s what I think is one of the most important things to focus on with this quintet: they are all phenomenally good public speakers!

Now you might think that this is a given; they are trained actors after all.

Sadly, though, that is not so. There is many an actor who can deliver a fine performance on screen or even on stage but when they have to stand up in front of an audience they don’t do so well.

So what are the public speaking strengths that Hopkins, Stewart, McKellen, Hurt and Cumberbatch all demonstrate when they get on stage?

1. Commitment and clarity


I can almost guarantee, that you could hand any of these guys a restaurant menu to read, and they would render you spellbound in seconds!

How? Well, it is all down to commitment to the line or message that they are delivering combined with clear and articulate delivery of it.

Throughout they remain connected and committed to every word they speak, giving each word appropriate time and appropriate weight.

As an audience you cannot help but listen and stay connected.

2. They Have a Natural Flow


With each, you get the sense that they are exactly the same person on stage and off.

There is an honest, natural flow to their delivery.

3. They Use Pace to Great Effect


They all have great use of pace.

They know when to keep it slow and measured, bringing life and vibrancy through great use of pitch.

There is no rushing, no great urgency.


4. They let you know they are ultra-present


Did you ever listen to someone giving an interview or doing a speech and you sense that they are not really there, but that they are thinking ahead about what they are going to do or say next.

The Fab Five are always present, always in the moment, whether they are on stage, on camera or standing at a podium.

These guys make it seem so easy that you could be forgiven for thinking that it is all down to natural ability.

The truth is that most of it is down to hard graft – many hours spent preparing, planning & rehearsing.

A comforting thought as it means that there is hope for us all!


One more actor from the other side of the Atlantic


To finish, a little fun! 🙂

Check out this clip from The Lego Movie.

Morgan Freeman, perhaps the American equivalent of our five British friends, jokes that he could read the phone book and make it sound interesting.

It is true!

Filling the room

Own your space: How to engage and influence

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We were all born with presence – it’s in our muscle memory.

If you want to discover what “presence” is, and build on your presence in your workplace, first understand that we were all born with presence.

We were not aware of this of course!

As we move into adulthood we lose this presence.

Life experiences, stress and tensions all play their part in loosing this presence but know that it is within us and we can access it once again

1. Understand what your posture is saying about you


This is key for establishing strong personal presence. Knowledge of when your body is balanced and centered is vital for insuring a strong physical and vocal presence.

It is important we understand the connection between body and voice and our listeners.

Always be aware of your posture – standing, sitting or moving.

Move with energy, move with intention – but aware of your posture.

Stand tall.

Exercise: Achieving Neutral Posture


  1. Standing – think tall, open and lengthening.  The feet are parallel and hipbone width apart, knees should be unlocked.
  2. The weight of the hips is directly over the feet
  3. Spine is not slumped or rigid.
  4. Start to work tension out of the shoulders, neck and face.
  5. Smile and open the jaw – soften your jaw, unclench the teeth, tongue relaxed on the floor of the mouth.
  6. Think of your crown as the highest point – growing up to the ceiling – loosen upwards.
  7. Abdominal area should feel released.
  8. As you breathe there is little/no shoulder or upper chest movement.
  9. By placing your hands on belly – allow the breath to drop low – this is your physical centre.

2. Own your space: Establishing your presence


Take a moment to ground yourself before you begin – it’s important to feel physically secure both for your physical presence and your vocal delivery.

Exercise: Owning your Space


  1. Ground yourself: You need to think about your posture
  2. Look: Give yourself time to be ready to communicate to your audience
  3. Breathe: Give yourself time to breathe before you begin


3. Breathing


To achieve a sense a calmness, composure and natural ease with we communicate it is vital that we understand the role breath plays.

One of the only ways to release tension, stress and nerves is to breathe correctly.

Incorrect breathing limits the voice we use to speak. To have a strong, resonant and efficient voice it is crucial we are breathing correctly.

A deep breath is not how much air we take into our body but how deep in the body it goes.
Voice is powered by breath, so it is vital that you understand how to breathe to ensure strong vocal presence.

Exercise: Connecting breath with voice


First become physically centered.

  • Lie down flat
  • Place your hands or a book on your belly
  • Let the in-breath find its natural rhythm
  • Encourage the release of the shoulders and abdominal muscles
  • Now begin to tune into your own breath and using your awareness to focus your breath deep and low in the body.
  • There is no movement in the shoulders or upper chest area.
  • On the out breath, make the following sounds: /FFFFF /VVVV/ /SSSS/ /ZZZZ/ /MMM/
  • Feel the breath connecting with sound

4. Connecting emotionally with your message


The reality is that any audience will connect and engage with people who are truly themselves.

Even if you are delivering an status update or technical information your audience really gets a sense that you truly believes your message.

Once there is authenticity in your message, then strong vocal techniques will be easier to access.

When you deliver a business presentation, how authentic are you with your audience? Or do you drop into presenter mode?

Because so many people do.

Ahead of your next presentation/communication, consider these two questions carefully:

  • What do you feel about your message to the audience?
  • What do you want your audience to feel about your message?

“Feel?” you might ask!

Yes, FEEL!

Not what you want them to know and understand, but what you want them to FEEL.

Do you want them to feel excited, curious, frustrated, sad?

Whatever that feeling is, you need to think carefully about it, as it needs to be conveyed in your vocal delivery.

5. The importance of power words


All words are not created equally.

When we speak we do not pronounce each and every word and syllable with the same importance.

If you want your audience to listen and engage then you need to understand.

  1. What are power words, and
  2. How to give these power words the power!

Power words are the 1-3 words in each phase or sentence that absolutely reduce it down to its basic meaning.

They communicate the essence of what we are saying.

These words require more time more emphasis, more vocal importance, if they are to resonate with the audience.

You need to be authentically communicating your message.

To be really connected to and truly believe your message.

  • Change of volume: Either increases or decreases volume on specific power words
  • Pitch variation: Change the pitch on certain power words to highlight and bring importance to them — make them stand out
  • Articulation: Overly articulate certain consonants in the power words to bring the word out further — lest the audience forget!
  • Change of pace: Speed up and then slows down on power words/phrases.
  • Pause: Pause before or after key power words

Try some combinations of any of the above.

They are vital to a strong vocal delivery that will be listened to and understood by your audience.

Myths and legends

Five public speaking myths debunked

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There is no shortage of advice about public speaking out there.

That also means, unfortunately, that there is no shortage of bad advice about public speaking out there.

Here we take a closer look at five public speaking myths that keep coming up, over and over and over again.

1. Professional public speakers never get nervous


The American writer Mark Twain once said,

There are two types of speakers – those that get nervous and those that are liars.

He definitely hits the nail on the head with that one.

Everyone gets a bump of energy before they step up to speak in front of a group of people and we commonly associate that surge of energy as nerves.

We feel a heightened energy before we speak publicly because it means we care about what we’re about to do.

That’s a good thing. The trick is harnessing that energy to create a more powerful speech.

That feeling of anxiety or nervousness never really goes away, no matter how many years of experience we clock up speaking in public.

Even the most seasoned veterans like Richard Branson still get the jitters before a gig.

  • Make sure you’re prepared and practiced
  • Take a few deep breaths before you go on
  • And remember you’re there to be as generous as you can with what you have to give!

2. If you make a mistake, you’ll look stupid


There isn’t a human being on the planet who hasn’t made a mistake or stumbled in a speech.

It’s just par for the course when it comes to live communication and the issue actually isn’t if something will go wrong, but when something will go wrong. It happens to everyone at some point and the trick is how you handle it.

The truth of the matter is that only you know the content of your presentation or speech; the audience doesn’t have a clue.

So if you miss a section of content or skip over a slide, don’t panic. The audience is with you.

If your laptop goes down, they’ll be thinking, “Oh, man, that happened to me once!” and they will empathize with you.

They want you to be brilliant.

3. Introverts make bad public speakers


Some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard are self-professed ‘introverts’ and have spoken honestly and with a lot of vulnerability.

It’s not about being over-the-top or flashy. Being a memorable and effective speaker is about giving people a bit of what makes you, well, you.

Maybe you incorporate your own brand of humour into your content or explain complex data in a clear and colourful way.

Whatever your style, the important thing is to make it your style while connecting with the audience in a meaningful and authentic way.

Everyone will have their own way of doing this, introverts included.

(If you’re an introvert, check out this powerful TED talk on introverts from Susan Cain.)

4. The lectern is your friend


I wouldn’t say the lectern is your enemy, but it definitely is not necessarily your friend.

What happens if you choose to stand behind a piece of furniture? Exactly! You’re creating an obstacle between you and the audience.

So be brave.

Step out from behind the furniture and own your space.

You look much more powerful and confident if you command the stage and open yourself up to connecting with the audience.

When you are free to move around, you have physical tools like your body posture and movement at your service. You will lose that if you’re behind a lectern.

When you can, choose freedom of movement so you can connect more fully with your audience. The lectern will not protect you from the audience; in fact, audiences just know when someone is hiding.

Audiences love courageous, open people who make themselves available to connect with them in an immediate and genuine way.

You do exactly that by stepping out from behind the lectern and owning the space.

5. To give a good speech, you have to be funny


You absolutely do not have to incorporate humour in your speech in order to be memorable.

Humour is only one tool to add colour or “stickiness” to your content.

There are lots of other tools you can use — tools like anecdotes, stories, props, images, music, your voice and body movement, or exclusive information to catch and keep the audience’s attention.

Yes, there’s no doubt that humour can be a wonderful tool to break the ice and create a common ground between you and the audience.

But you don’t have to be a stand-up comic to get people to laugh with you.

The things we actually find most funny are those that are true.

Speak from your truth and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

If you do want to use it, try it out on a few people beforehand, and see what kind of humour suits you best.

Habit tracking

Seven habits of highly successful public speakers

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Everyone needs a bit of help when it comes to what can make or break a good presentation or public speaking engagement.

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine points out some of the great tips and habits of successful public speakers.

But to sum up the seven key points, the habits shared by successful public speakers, they are:

1. Focus on the audience

World-class successful public speakers ask, “What do I want the audience think, do or feel differently after my presentation?”

Focus on sharing your message with the audience and you will become more successful.

2. Engage

One easy way is to engage people’s emotions: ask questions, tell stories or play a short video.

The more engaging your presentation is, the more attention you can get from the audience.

3. Be conversational

Successful entrepreneurs avoid buzzwords. They use simple words to make sure that everyone understands what they say.

To get your point across, use simple words that even a 10 year old can understand.

4. Tell powerful stories

Stories help you stand out from the crowd. The best stories are usually from your personal experiences because you know them best and nobody can challenge you.

5. Use slides that are visually engaging

Make sure every slide has one picture that expresses the whole idea and use as few words as possible.

This simple approach will make your presentation more memorable.

6. Get coaching

The key to peak performance is coaching. Even personal development legend Tony Robbins has a coach.

7. Keep learning

Even top presentation experts keep learning.

They read new books, attend seminars and watch TED Talks (such as Brene Brown, Julian Treasure, Steve Jobs and others) to advance their skills.

Building rapport

The art of connecting with any audience

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When you’re thinking about the public speaking skills you need to succeed, it pays to think first and foremost about your audience.

So if there’s one vital piece of advice to give for you in any environment where you’re talking in front of an audience — from sales presentations to staff meetings to a keynote address to a packed auditorium — make sure to take note of the following seven tips to better serve your audience.

1. A reason to listen


An audience will not listen to you unless they know why they should – it’s as simple as that!

So, you need to make it very clear from the start why your presentation is important to them.

  • What’s the benefit?
  • What are the consequences?

They need to know WIIFM — the “what’s in it for me?” question.

Fail to take note, and you might not have an audience at all.

2. Make it easy for them


When you’re doing your talk prep, make sure to structure you message simply and clearly.

If you’re inexperienced find out about basic structuring for a presentation.

I always this it’s useful to think of “the audience” as friends.

And the truth is, subconsciously no audience wants to work hard. They don’t want to wade through complex slides trying to figure out what exactly they need to do.

Structure things as simply and clearly as you can to make life really easy for any audience.

3. Simple and user-friendly language


Stop using jargon and complex language — immediately!

There’s a misconception about complex language. Some people think it makes them sound more intelligent.

But the truth is it doesn’t.

Jargon and complexity is much more likely to bore, alienate and frustrate your listener.

So avoid that at all costs and use a conversational style with matching language. We can tell you this — a conversational style is actually more professional than what you might think of as “professional” style.

4. Make the message relevant


With every point you make, ask yourself this question:

  • Why would this be remotely relevant to the listener?

If you think it is or should be relevant to them, then ask yourself a second question:

  • How am I making this relevant and understandable to them?

Every point you make needs to be in “audience context”.

5. Make it memorable


If they feel they are being talked to, as opposed to talked at, they are more likely to remember your message.

Using “I”, “we” and “our” involves the audience as if they are on the journey also, and if we are involved, suddenly things become much more memorable.

Using personal experiences, personal stories and memorable examples is a good start.

But do avoid making stuff up. It can be very obvious and can sound false to the audience.

6. Make sure you really believe your own message


If your voice lacks energy and emotion, your audience will tune out.

So ask yourself, what emotion do you want your audience to feel?

Interest? Excitement? Curiosity?

Whatever it is, you then need to convey this emotion in your voice.

It sounds like an obvious presentation skill, but just thinking about what you are saying and how you would like the audience to feel it very powerful.

So many presenters just present like they are “going through the motions”.

An audience needs and expects more.

7. You Staying Connected From Start to Finish


There is no point having a great, memorable first 45 seconds and then revert to a complex, irrelevant message for the remainder of your presentation.

We once heard someone use the analogy of a “travelator” (those flat moving walkways you see in airports) when giving a presentation.

The audience needs to step on the “travelator” at the beginning with you and move with you through your presentation and gets off the end with you.

They need to walk away from your presentation knowing what they should do, think and feel as a result of listening to your entire presentation.