What to Do When You’re Scared to Speak

There’s a fantastic Jerry Seinfeld quote that I love:

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Yes, it’s hilarious and dumbfounding, but there’s also an element of truth to it. For some people, the thought of speaking up can be absolutely terrifying. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a group meeting, one-on-one, or in front of a crowd; the idea of speaking out can be petrifying.  

Is any of this resonating with you? Do you have a fear of speaking?

I get it.

I speak from experience here because I was once one of those scared people too (sometimes still am). Just the idea of speaking up in front of my coworkers would make me feel ice cold with fear. It was crippling!

The terror didn’t come from not having something to contribute, I’ve always had a lot of ideas and opinions. And it wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t have any confidence in myself or my abilities, I did. But speaking up just felt… different. Harder.

So, how did I go from being a tightly shut clam to someone who now speaks and engages with people verbally on a constant basis?

Here are some ideas that you might want to try!

Push Yourself

Have you ever been to a swimming pool where you’ve seen a little kid standing on the edge of the diving board, mustering the bravery to take the leap? It’s clear when you see a kid like this, they want to get over their fear and go for it. They stand there for a long time, looking apprehensive but also clearly trying to summon the courage to jump.

They might be young, but even from an early age they grasp an important concept; in order to get over their fear, they’re eventually going to have to push themselves off. Once they do take the plunge, they suddenly discover that it wasn’t all that bad. Then they usually run up and jump off a second time without hesitation.

To do anything that we’re terrified of, we need to push ourselves to one degree or another. Without this push, we’ll never venture outside of our comfort zone, and we’ll never grow. In the case of speaking, this means pushing yourself to speak up, even when you don’t feel like it.

For any of the sci-fi nerds out there, this Litany Against Fear may ring a bell:

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

In case you don’t recognize it, it’s actually from Dune by Frank Herbert. Yes, that’s pretty nerdy, but I also think it’s kind of awesome! The idea of facing your fear head on and letting it pass over you and through you feels so empowering to me. Maybe it will resonate with you too. Especially when you stop to think about what the fear is really all about.

Most people are afraid that they’ll say the wrong thing, sound stupid, be judged. But here’s the secret: it doesn’t matter. In most meetings and conversations, the stakes are much lower than you might feel. It doesn’t actually matter so much matter WHAT you say. What matters is that you say it!

Your first time speaking out may end up just like the kid jumping into the pool. It probably isn’t going to be graceful! But what matters is that you pushed yourself. You jumped. And the next time you speak will be much easier!

Become an Expert on Your Topic

Much of the time, the reason why we feel insecure about speaking in front of other people is that we don’t feel like we’re experts on the topic. In the back of our minds, we might feel like the other people in the room know more than we do, so we should probably listen instead of talk.

There’s a simple solution to this: become an expert on the topic that you’re expected to speak about.

Often, our lack of confidence comes from not feeling rock solid about the information that we have at our disposal. But if you’re entirely fluent on a subject you’ll be setting yourself up for success!

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Of course, it’s impossible to become an expert on every subject that you’ll be expected to speak about in your life, but there are certain occasions when it is possible.

Your industry. Your specialty. Your niche. These are the things you need to know intimately.

And remember, whether you’re giving a speech or just speaking at a meeting, it isn’t enough to simply memorize and regurgitate the words. You need to understand the concepts behind the words entirely. You have to be ready to “go off script,” and your deep understanding of the subject is much more important than buzzwords and memorized sentences.

When you really understand what you’re talking about, if there are any questions, you’ll be all set and ready to respond with confidence.


Maybe you’re already an expert in your industry, but you have trouble expressing your thoughts. You know the “what” but you don’t have the “how” for articulating that expertise. It’s a common part of the challenge of speaking, and a simple case of practice makes perfect.

If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

~Dale Carnegie

Speaking is a skill. Just because we talk all day doesn’t mean that we know how to “speak.” If you want to become a pro at speaking in front of people, you’re going to need to practice.

Practice can take many forms. For example, if you’ve never tried giving an Academy Award acceptance speech in the shower or a wedding toast in front of the bathroom mirror, you’re missing out. But although this kind of practice can be helpful, you need to practice with real people for it to become useful.

Your friends and family can be helpful here. Just ask them to talk about your chosen topic with you. They don’t have to be an expert on the subject as it’s more about asking you questions and having a dialogue. Just by speaking to others, even people you trust, your confidence will start to rise.

It can be really helpful to join a mastermind group or speak with a coach to gain practice speaking with peers or with a mentor. This will give you a great opportunity to practice and nurture your speaking skills, and you’ll learn so much along the way.

Consider Toastmasters

Have you heard of Toastmasters? Probably the best advice I could give someone about how to get over a fear of public speaking is to join.

Toastmasters International is an incredible group dedicated to growing communication skills in their members.

In every meeting, the group takes part in a quick round of Table Topics. The “toastmaster” provides an impromptu subject to each member and then each person has to speak on the topic for 1 to 2 minutes. Gah!

Too scary?

No, it’s actually amazingly helpful! It doesn’t matter if you know anything about the subject or not; that isn’t the point. The point is that, by getting up in front of a group of supportive people who are in the same boat as you, you’ll learn how to think (and speak) on your feet.

Toastmasters offers the best opportunity for “practice” I can think of when it comes to speaking in front of others. There are chapters all over the world, so you’ll likely have no problem finding them in the US or Canada. I highly recommend them, as they certainly helped me get past my fear of public speaking!

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

~Louisa May Alcott

I pushed through my own fears, came to understand myself, and am continuing to learn and grow every day. It isn’t always easy, but I can definitely say from experience that it’s worth the effort!

Have you ever been scared to speak in front of others? How about in front of groups? How did you get passed it? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Related Blog: Should You Make Speaking Engagements Part of Your Solopreneur Strategy?

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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