How To Speak Up Without Freaking Out


DiceTV: Did you know forty percent of Americans say their fear of public speaking is holding them back in their career? Speaking up in meetings, making presentations, even guesting on podcasts can boost your career and income, yet many of us would rather face snakes than an audience.

I’m Cat Miller and this is Dice TV.

You’re a tech, not a public speaker. You work behind the scenes and you pretty much would like to keep it that way. But today, as the tech units work more with business units, techs are finding that they need to speak up more, offer their expertise and their opinion. All people, not just techs rate speaking anxiety 10 to 20 percent higher than heights, spiders, fire, and even death.  For more we turn to Dino Londis, a writer on the Dice Blog Network who also writes a consumerization column for BYTE. Welcome back Dino.

CAT: Dino you were a standup comedian.  How long were you doing that?

DINO: On some nights it seemed like forever.

CAT: Did you have stage fright?

DINO: Every time. But I don’t think this is the same. When a tech speaks up, like any professional speaking to peers or colleagues, they fear they will be sound dumb or be contradicted or just go blank.

I once heard of an expert witness who had stage freight. He was the tops in his field, but was petrified to address a courtroom.  So he started by saying to the courtroom that he didn’t speak in front of people enough for him to shake his nerves. So he might appear nervous. And just by saying that, he calmed his nerves.

CAT: Yeah, but that’s not going to work in every case. I mean you can’t speak up in a conference room by saying, “I want to make a point about that, but I first want everyone to know I’m nervous right now.”

DINO: Right and for those situations bring an agenda. What is your desired outcome from the meeting?  Once I made a presentation about the enterprise version of a dictation software product compared to the stand-alone version. I had all the research and all the answers, but I failed to develop a point of view.  In other words, I didn’t know what I wanted from my very own meeting.

CAT: What about speaking on stage with a prepared presentation.

DINO: Well, in that case I can speak from experience. I’m generally soft spoken and I learned when on stage you can always start loud and bring it down, but you can’t start low and bring it up. And when you start loud – big – the words seem to follow.


Generally speaking I find that people want you to do well. Whether it’s an audience or just a few people in a meeting. People are too into their own thing to notice your anxiety.

DINO: Do you get nervous on stage, Cat?

CAT: Not so much if I’m well prepared.

DINO: And that’s probably the key. Focus on the message and the rest should follow.


DINO: Thank You Cat.

CAT: I’m Cat Miller and we now return you to your regular desktop.

No Responses to “How To Speak Up Without Freaking Out”

  1. Dino made a good point about starting loud if you are soft-spoken, because it is important to capture audience attention at the beginning. If you lose them at the start, it is an uphill climb to re-gain that attention. I have found that if I start off my presentation shouting as I speak, it works for me. Since I myself am soft-spoken, my shout doesn’t actually sound like a shout and accomplishes the desired effect.

  2. I worked for a small university some years ago, and was given the opportunity to teach a computer class one semester. I jumped at the chance thinking easy money. What a surprise for me. I enjoyed the class overall, but there were some difficulties. I quickly learned that just because you know something doesn’t mean you can explain it well enough for someone else to learn it. A trainer once said ‘The way to really know, if you know something, is to teach it to someone.’. Another lesson that I learned is preparation is very important. You don’t look very professional stumbling along. You have to have a well thought out plan, and you must follow the plan.

    I remember on 2 occasions my mind going completely blank. I knew the subject well, but nothing would surface. Ohhhhhhhh Noooooooo!!!! still nothing surfacing to be grasped. Okkk… break time. 🙁 while I try and regroup! Not a good experience at all.

    I have always been afraid of speaking in front of groups of people no matter the size. Another benefit of teaching that class, was it gave me an opportunity to work thru this fear. Since then I have researched different methods of public speaking, trying to improve my presentation skills.

    I still get nervous speaking in front of large groups, though not as much as in the past. Teaching networking in a college for 2 years has really helped me overall.

    If you get a chance to teach, I suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. It can really help you hone your presentation skills. Just be fully prepared for each class.

  3. I highly recommend finding a Toastmasters group. The primary fear of public speaking is the simple unfamiliarity of it. We’ve not done it much, so we are afraid of it. Toastmasters lets you practice speaking in a small and supportive group, and since you are all learning together, there is no risk that you will be laughed at. I’m not currently in Toastmasters, but I recommend it highly.
    Another way to practice speaking in front of a small but supportive group is to lead an adult Bible study at your church (if you belong to one); it gives you weekly practice in front of people who know and like you, so they won’t mind if you mess up occasionally. Plus, they will be glad they don’t have to try it!