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The art of public speaking

By Alistair Barton, Project Director at SWM Partners

Most professionals in the modern business world know the instant rush of adrenaline when asked to conduct a presentation, pitch for a new client or when a speaker calls for a volunteer. Public speaking is one of the biggest barriers faced in the working environment. 

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects around 73% of the population.

To solve a problem or overcome a fear, it is important to first understand the rationale behind the emotion.


The hypothesis as to why fear of public speaking causes such a strong reaction in many of us, is a complex mixture of years of evolution and psychological conditioning.

The part of your brain that handles strong emotions, the amygdala, is sending warning signals advising of danger and encouraging you to flee in order to avoid it. This would have been a useful tool to your once native, homo sapien self. This quick reaction to recognising danger has allowed us to thrive as a human population.

The amygdala is a fast-acting defence mechanism that does not think but responds quickly - Dr Steve Peters

However, one could argue that in most modern-day scenarios, we are not required to flee and neither is it socially acceptable to do so. Instead, we must press on and face our fears using various coping strategies.


Generations of conditioning cannot be undone with one successful pitch. Here are our top tips to conquer glossophobia:

  1. Know your material

    Practise as much as possible. This does not just include knowing your content but also practising for any tricky questions or scenarios that may arise.

  2. Concentrate on the message not the medium

    If you focus on the message of what you want to say, the medium will follow in due course. Concentrate on what you want your audience to take away from your speech / presentation.

  3. Read the room

    An important skill for a dynamic speech is to be able to read your audiences' reaction. Allow them the time they need to react to your content and adjust your tone, pitch, intonation according to their reactions.

  4. Gain experience  

    The more you are exposed to something like public speaking, the more you will feel comfortable doing it.


Given the ongoing global pandemic, many of us are turning to online or virtual presentations. Whilst this bears similarities to presenting in person, presenting online comes with its own challenges to overcome.

It is especially challenging if you are meeting someone for the first time online. The criteria on which to base your first impression of someone from seeing their small webcam window and hearing their voice over the internet is far more limited. 

But the world of business must continue, we recommend embracing the new normal and here are our top tips to conquer virtual public speaking:

  1. Technical check

    Don't let internet speeds diminish your message. Check your connection in advance and if required plug in an ethernet cable to guarantee smooth video and audio. If you suffer from internet interruptions, turn other devices on to airplane mode to save bandwidth. 

  2. Cameras on

    A message always comes across as more genuine when you make eye contact with your audience. Present looking directly into your web camera if you can, in order to hold everyones' attention.

  3. Sit up straight

    Sitting up straight puts your diaphragm in the optimum position for speaking. Giving your voice more substance and making you less likely to get out of breath. 


A Vocal Confidence Coach once taught me, that all speaking is public speaking. Whether it be presenting online, conducting a speech in person or having a 1-2-1 with a team member, judgements and decisions are being made based on how you are communicating. Make sure that your message is not being diluted by public speaking nerves and let nothing hold you back. 

For additional reading on the subject, we highly recommend Dr Steve Peters' Book, The Chimp Paradox for more information on the Amygdala and the various elements of our life it has an impact on.

To learn more about how we can help you master the art of public speaking at events, please contact our team today:

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