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Conquer public-speaking paranoia

If the thought of addressing an audience makes you sweat bullets, you're not alone. Forty million Americans are so terrified of speaking to a group, they'd do almost anything to avoid it. In fact, according to an oft-cited study done by polling firm Brushkin-Goldring, more people said they feared public speaking than feared death.

Philippe Clarke, 35, used to be one of those people. Prior to founding IBT Group Inc., a training and promotions consulting firm in Falls Church, Virginia, in 1995, Clarke gave--or, as he puts it, tried to give--a speech on current affairs to a group of 50 politicians. "I was so nervous that my eyes actually saw nothing but yellow, and therefore, I couldn't see the crowd," Clark recalls. "I ended up spieling out this, you know, rehearsed speech--and I wasn't even facing the audience. I was actually slightly turned to the wall."

Why do people clam up? The primary reason, says Lilyan Wilder, author of 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking and a consultant to broadcast correspondents at ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, is that many people dread feeling isolated when they're the focal point in a room. "If you're seated--especially if you're behind a table--you have protection. You're on an equal basis with the people you're speaking to around the table," says Wilder. "But when you stand up, the pressure's on: You've got to be the leader. You've got to show the way. Then you suddenly feel the palpitations, you get short of breath, your hands may shake and knees buckle."

But as an entrepreneur, you can't afford to be held back by fear of public speaking. Your business' success hinges on your ability to perform, with all eyes on you, and speak with poise and conviction to:

  • Sell your products and services to prospective customers
  • Persuade a group of prospective investors that your business is a winner
  • Train employees on company processes
  • Motivate employees to reach for higher quality and productivity standards

Clarke realized this early on in his entrepreneurial career, resolving to do whatever it took to overcome his stage fright--and has since grown his company into a multimillion-dollar venture with 15 employees. How can you, too, overcome the fear of public speaking to accomplish your business goals? Here are four tips:

1. Do what you fear--and do it often. "If your problem is speaking in public, tackle it head on. Try to speak at as many public venues as you possibly can until you dominate that fear," Clarke advises. "When you do this, you'll find that people are really there to hear you and learn from what you have to say."

2. Take stock of your assets. On a sheet of paper, write down the reasons why you think your message should be heard and why you're the best person to communicate that information. This exercise will help boost your confidence when you feel most intimidated.

3. Start in a "low-risk" environment. Build your confidence by speaking regularly to smaller, more sympathetic audiences before taking on a high-stakes speech like asking for money from a group of prospective investors.

4. Put your fear in perspective. Which is more terrifying to you--giving a speech in front of 50 people or not fulfilling your entrepreneurial dream? Put a dollar amount on what you stand to lose if you allow your fear of public speaking to hold you back. Is it worth the price?

Sean M. Lyden ( is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues.

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Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

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