“I Hate Public Speaking, so I Called in the Experts”

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Cristina Bolling, the managing editor of The Charlotte Ledger, recently chronicled her journey to becoming a more effective and comfortable public speaker. She received advice from some of Charlotte’s public speaking experts including Interact Studio founder Lou Solomon. 

This article has been reposted with permission from Cristina and The Charlotte Ledger. Here is the link to the original article.

Pro tips: Run off the jitters. Trust your microphone. And get in ‘beast mode’

Many of us can come up with a pretty long list of unpleasant things we’d rather do than talk in front of an audience. (I’ll go first: get a cavity filled, call customer service and kill a cockroach.)

In one-on-one conversations, we excel. But pin a microphone on our lapel or give us the virtual floor, and our hands sweat, our thought trains derail, our voices quiver, and we’re pretty sure our heartbeats are audible.

That’s a problem. In today’s world, public speaking is a skill that is not just helpful but is essential for everyone from PTA committee chairs to company executives and HOA presidents.

I’m a writer who designed my career around communicating by putting my fingers on a keyboard, but in the last year even I have found myself thrust into talking publicly more often (albeit mostly online, thanks to Covid) than I ever have before.

The good news is that while some of us may never crave the spotlight, we can get better at communicating when all eyes are on us.

In the interest of helping both myself and others like me (in a recent survey, 29% of people said they were “afraid” or “very afraid” of public speaking), I’ve compiled some tips from local experts in leadership and public speaking, and have asked them to critique some clips of my recent video appearances and offer advice. (Gulp.)

Let’s get the embarrassing stuff out of the way:

I stumbled through this September appearance on PBS Charlotte WTVI’s “Off the Record,” a weekly program where a rotating cast of local reporters discusses topics of the week. (Here’s a short clip of one of my more blathering comments):

Lou Solomon of communications coaching company Interact Studio suggested these improvements for my future panel guest appearances:

Glance at the camera.  Find ways to cast your eyes toward the camera more often. Some platforms allow you to rearrange the “thumbnails” so that your host and co-panelists are near the top of your screen. There is also a transparent camera mount that lets you position your webcam anywhere on your screen so that you can look at your camera as you look at your audience (plexicam.com).

Breathe. Belly-breathing between questions will help you relax and drop your voice to a lower register. If your voice sounds pitchy or wobbly, breathing from the diaphragm will help.

Pause. Take a beat here and there. Rushing to answer the question and speaking non-stop can cause “non-words” such as “um, you know, uh” etc.

Start Sturdy. Ask for a list of questions in advance and plan to begin your answers in a solid way. Instead of a tentative “Yeah, uh…” say something like “That’s right!” with confidence.

I’ve got a big advantage when taping The Ledger’s Flyover Friday video series, because videographer/producer Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project edits my rambling and makes me sound better than I normally would. But there’s always room for improvement, right?

Ace TV reporter Joe Bruno of WSOC offered this flyover feedback:

Trust the mic. I struggle with this too at times. When I go live at a loud or noisy scene, my voice automatically gets louder, thinking I need to compensate. The microphone is strong. If the person recording you is wearing headphones, he or she will be able to tell you if you need to speak at a higher volume. You can also always clip the microphone higher on your shirt. A quiet background is best. But when you don’t have another option, just remember you can always raise your microphone’s volume when it comes time to edit. Keep the energy but be careful not to yell.

I appreciate you maintained eye contact with the person you are interviewing. You appeared engaged in the conversation and not distracted by the camera.

When interviewing someone significantly taller, I suggest standing on a box. This will make it easier for your cameraman to frame the shot and it will look less jarring during the two-shots. Some anchors in TV news studios stand on boxes every day in Charlotte.

Almost all of your questions started with “so.” Conversational is good. But the word “so” can be eliminated at the beginning of all of your questions and the questions will still make sense. If in the future you notice you do this again, just have your editor edit out the “so” at the beginning of your questions.

I stepped outside my comfort zone in October when I hosted an hour-long panel on college admissions on the online events platform Jumbo. The biggest chunk of my speaking happened at the beginning, when I introduced the event and the panelists. Here’s a clip:

Kim Wojnowich of Live BOLDly Coaching suggested ways to open the panel with a little more pizazz:

How about a spicier intro that relates to the audience and gains more excitement and interest? Relating to the audience and even making them laugh a bit will help them want to pay attention. (Especially on Zoom where it’s easy to not pay attention.)

An example would be: “Wow if there is any part of adulting and parenting that is overwhelming it is the college admissions process. The questions, the conflicting info, Covid, all make the information endless and the process seem stressful! We are so excited to help you with this and have brought in the experts! I am thrilled to introduce top experts and leaders in this industry.” Adding this enthusiasm and excitement for the panelists will get the audience more excited as well.

Virtual panels work on where you are looking. Looks like you are reading but not looking at camera therefore not looking at the audience.

Another virtual tip that shows authority: You could say, “You may be ZOOMED out and we thank you for participating in our virtual event. We are thrilled to have these experts for an hour but we know that virtual makes distractions easy! I encourage you to put away phones, close all the windows and be present today. Trust me, I know that distractions are easy but these experts have such fab info you dont want to miss!” Sometimes a simple reminder like this will help people pay better attention.

Tips you can use: Here’s how to manage adrenaline rushes, a dry mouth and jitters

Here are some tips you can try the next time you have to speak in public, from Solomon, Bruno, Wojnowich and David Jones of Queen City Toastmasters Club:  

Run around the block: A quick run disperses adrenaline and helps with breathing, Solomon says. “You definitely want blood going to your brain. When you don’t breathe well and oxygen leaves your brain, that’s when you forget what you’re going to say.” If you can’t run around the block before you speak, Solomon advises to “take one of those deep belly breaths. Relax your abs, like they teach you to do in yoga. You can just feel it begin to calm you.”

Prepare for that initial adrenaline rush: Embrace, don’t dread, that energy burst that happens as you take the floor, Solomon said. And don’t assume that people can feel your nervous energy. “A flush of that cold adrenaline in your system doesn’t show on the outside, even though people think it does. They looked at this in research studies and I think only 10% of your symptoms are visible to people, and for most of us it’s not detectable.” Adrenaline “creates that kind of tension in the room, an electricity,” she says, which is more engaging than watching a flat speaker on auto pilot.

Stand tall and take up space: Some people are more comfortable speaking sitting down (and sometimes you don’t have an option), but Solomon says she prefers standing up because it allows for the diaphragm to be lengthened and gives a more confident posture. “If your shoulders are down, that does not look confident. It actually spikes your testosterone if you stand tall and take up a little bit more space.”

Wet your whistle: If your mouth feels like you’re “spitting cotton,” as Solomon calls it, have a glass of water nearby and stop and take a sip. “Nobody will ever, ever think twice about it,” she says. If you don’t have water available, she advises biting softly on either side of your tongue, which helps your mouth release saliva. “It sounds really odd, but it works.”

Get into BEAST MODE: Wojnowich says she tells clients to get into what she calls “beast mode” by standing up just before an event and saying to themselves (loudly, if possible): “I am a confident BOLD speaker/moderator with authority who will show up as such,” or another phrase or sentence “that encapsulates how you want to feel and come across.” She then tells them to do “a fist pump or something to get into that mode. Then GO — physically and mentally entering the space of how you want to come across and show up.”

Talk how you would to a third grader: “Sometimes people clam up in front of the camera or attempt to sound like someone they are not,” says WSOC’s Joe Bruno. “When speaking broadly to the public, it is best to think of it like you are speaking to third graders. Make the delivery and the subject as easy as possible to understand.”

Just do it (over and over and over): David Jones of Queen City Toastmasters Club, says showing up week after week to a group like Toastmasters is the tried-and-true way of conquering your anxiety over public speaking. Each week, Toastmasters members meet to give speeches and critique each other, giving instant feedback on everything from eye contact and tone to grammar. Even Jones admits he’s “had some really bad speeches” as he worked up the Toastmasters ranks, “but you’re motivated not to quit, because that’s the place you want to fail, versus (giving a bad speech) in front of your boss or your friends.” He quotes famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “The difference between a good speaker and a great speaker is 1,000 speeches.”

Try to have fun. (Sounds crazy, right?): “When you are enjoying yourself, we (the audience) reflect that back to you,” Solomon says. “The moment we see you relax and enjoy yourself, that’s when we will. I’ve never seen someone put themselves out there and extend themselves with a certain humanity, enjoyment, vulnerability when the audience didn’t meet them half-way and then some. It really is a mutual event.”

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: cristina@cltledger.com


Cristina is a shining example of taking stock of one’s own communication skills and putting in the work to continue growing. She eximplyfies our belief that leaders should never stop learning. We are proud to see how she has grown on her public speaking journey.

If you are looking to strengthen your public speaking skills, reach out to us at info@interactstudio.com or learn more about our services and courses.

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