Step Into Public Speaking

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As a young elementary school teacher, on Back to School Night, my naturally high pitched voice went even higher, even tighter and I spoke very fast. (Okay, it happened in other settings too. Think Minnie Mouse on steroids.) The excitement, stimulation, and nerves of speaking in front of all the parents influenced my speaking presence. Luckily, I was teaching in NYC where there are lots of theater professionals. Parents of a student invited me to their voice and communication workshops. Both workshops were transformative and gave me a chance to experience myself in entirely new ways.

Even so, growing as a leader and a communicator took time and is still an ongoing process. My passion for coaching communicating with presence and power grows from my own journey of becoming an effective speaker and leader. Periodically, I will use this blog to share some tips that I find working for me and my clients.

How do your nerves show up when it’s time for you to speak in front of a group?

Do you feel as if you are outside your body watching what’s happening?

Do you freeze and forget what you wanted to say?

Do you say the wrong words, say them too fast or too slow?

Do you feel short of breath? Does your pitch go up like mine did?

Do you have painful breaks between words while thinking of what to say?

Or do you ramble as the adrenaline drives your mind forward?

Here are a couple of tips for calming nerves and centering that have helped me and some of my clients. (You may also want to visit the Lighten and Let Go page to help you relax in advance.) You can use these tips to build your confidence and skills with any kind of public speaking, whether it is informal with friends, in leadership or presentational contexts.

Ground Yourself

You can do this sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground or in a standing position:

Shift your attention to the ground beneath your feet and the sensation on the bottoms of your feet. Feel solid and connected to the ground.

Imagine a purple crayon outlining your foot starting at the big toe, going over the other toes, around the side of the foot, around the heel, around the arch and back up to the big toe.

Imagine coloring in all the space within the outline and creating a purple stamp with your foot as you let your weight and awareness drop to your feet.

Do the same thing with the other foot, or do them at the same time.

Imagine all the muscles in your body melting like wax on a candle into the ground beneath your feet.


Before you start your presentation:

Take some evenly paced inhales and exhales before you start speaking. This cues your nervous system to relax. Count 1-2-3-4-5 on the inhale and 1-2-3-4-5 on the exhale.

During your presentation

Take a breath before the beginning of your sentence. Just putting attention onto breathing as you begin a thought or a sentence will naturally slow down your pacing and bring your thoughts and body more into alignment. It will also help your nerves stay calm.

When you lose a word or forget something you wanted to say, taking a few seconds to breathe will help it resurface.

Connect with Your Audience

Imagine that you are the hostess of a big event. Act as if the meeting space isyour home and welcome everyone with your body and your eyes. Feel the welcoming energy and your body will reflect that open invitation.

Send smiles with your eyes. You don’t have to have a full smile if it doesn’t feel appropriate or natural. What’s important is that you are really seeing people and that they feel seen. Try catching the eye of an audience member and let your eyes connect for a moment, just enough to welcome that person with your eyes. Notice and allow the discomfort that may arise. Ironically, if you go with the discomfort you will appear more welcoming than if you try to hide or avoid the discomfort.

You may want to practice these tips at home on your own first and notice how they feel in your body. The more you can grow a physical awareness of how it feels, the easier it will be to use these tools when you want them.

Contact me for a complimentary coaching session to grow your impact as a speaker and as a leader.  If you are local, check out my events page for upcoming workshops.

Leah Zimmerman Headshop
Photo credit: Leila Sacks

Leah is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach who specializes in working with highly educated professional moms who want to reduce stress and bring more creativity, energy, and inspiration into their lives. Leah blends her backgrounds in leadership development, education and the performing arts with evidence-based practices to help women lead more integrated lives. Contact Leah for a complimentary coaching session and to learn more about coaching.

One Comment on “Step Into Public Speaking

  1. An informative and useful blog post! I remember taking speech in 8th grade as my first elective, just to face that fear. The fear isn’t gone, but I have thrived as a litigator and as an actor!

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