Overcoming the fear of public speaking

I’ve just finished facilitating a workshop on personal presentation for Women in Film and Television as part of their Media Leadership program.

As we may have experienced, anxiety is often our first response to public speaking. Standing up and delivering a talk is the number two fear for many people. The first is death, in case you were wondering.

One of the chief ways to overcome some of that fear is to really focus on the audience. Put yourself in their shoes and answer these two questions: 1) why should they care? And 2) what’s in it for them?

With a clear understanding of the needs of those sitting in front of you, you are well on your way to success.

Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist has delved deeper into what really influences people’s decisions to agree, buy or commit to an idea or a product.

These methods have been studied and found to be effective.


In every culture there is a tradition of gift giving. Once someone has given you a gift you are much more likely to return in kind. For instance, waiters who left a candy on the bill tray were more likely to receive higher tips. Those who left two candies upped their tip. However those servers who came back to the table and complimented their guests with an additional candy received 25% more.

Gift giving or even a compliment is particularly effective when it is special to the person receiving it, regardless of the amount of money spent and unexpected.


We are more likely to be persuaded by someone who we like – not surprising. We tend to believe people who are similar to us, have the same interests or hobbies or share views of the world. When people go to home shopping parties, like Tupperware, their opinion of the host totally influences the amount they buy at the event. We’re also more likely to be influenced by eating together with people. The act of dining together promotes a sense of solidarity.


Once we publicly declare our intentions, it is much more likely that we will buy or vote or volunteer. Asking people the question such as are you willing to support an initiative and wait for a yes in response yields greater support. Saying ‘yes’ signals a commitment. Their commitment then becomes voluntary, active and publicly declared to others. Writing a commitment down increases the commitment even more.

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