The Fear of Public Speaking: The “What Ifs?”

May 28, 2015

what ifs of public speaking

Survey after survey lists The Fear of Public Speaking at the top of the “Fear List” most people have. Some say they would rather die than stand in front of an audience and deliver a speech. This is unfortunate because it holds many back from reaching their potential. It is a fear worth confronting and overcoming because “Speaking Opportunities are Business, Career, and Leadership Opportunities.”

My clients’ stories confirm this. Our initial conversation often starts like this: “I’m sick and tired of coworkers less qualified than me, who don’t contribute as much to the company, getting promotions, bonuses, and leadership opportunities I don’t receive. One of the reasons is they are giving presentations. Some of those presentations are not that good! However, they’re doing it, and I’m not. Can you help me?”

My previous AMA Playbook post discussed why so many people dread giving a presentation. It gave a number of reasons, and most can be overcome.

This post addresses the WHAT IFS?

  • WHAT IF? the audience doesn’t like me?
  • WHAT IF? their last speaker was really good and compared to them I stink?
  • WHAT IF? I forget something? I must be perfect!

Then there is, perhaps, the biggest WHAT IF?

  • WHAT IF? I’ve got nothing to talk about? What could I ever present to an audience that anyone would have an interest in hearing?

Here’s my response:

Everyone has experiences and knowledge people would love to hear and could benefit from.

Here’s how I came to that realization:

One day, a good friend emailed a question to me. I typed my seemingly normal response into the email and hit the Reply button. Almost immediately, I got a one word response – WOW! I looked at that WOW and thought, “What’s WOW?” I wrote that into the email, hit the Send button, and went back to work. He said, “Sometimes, you’re so close to your own knowledge base, that’s so wide and so deepYou don’t know what you know!” Think about that statement, “You don’t know what you know!” Your everyday could be somebody’s payday! Your everyday could be someone’s “a-ha moment.” You have a topic to speak about that others will benefit from.

Here’s a story to illustrate:

I teach a Public Speaking class. It’s two nights, two hours per night. The first night I speak and give an overview of presentation skills. Students give mini-presentations the second night. Last year, I had a class of inner-city church women, and it was their night to present five minute presentations. They were tremendous! I was really impressed. One person waited until everyone else had spoken. She stood up, started walking to the front of the room, then stopped and said, “I’ve got nothing to talk about.” She started to sit down.

“Wait a minute!” I said. “Before we started class, didn’t I hear you telling some classmates you speak to your kids every day?”

“I do that,” she said.

“What do you tell them?” I asked.

She replied, “I tell them to keep away from gangs, don’t do drugs, and work hard.”

“That’s good stuff!” I said.

“How many children do you have?

She replied, “I have six.”

“Wow, big family!” I exclaimed. The class nodded their heads in agreement.

“What are those kids doing now?” I asked.

She paused for a moment, and said, “Well, four are in college. . .”

“Wait a minute! Stop right there! You have four children in college?”

“That’s correct,” she replied.

I responded, “I’ll bet there are children in your neighborhood who don’t go to high school. You have four kids in college and told this class you don’t have anything to talk about! We’ve got to hear how you did that!”

Equally shocked, the entire class responded the way I did.

This story is not unique. It happens all the time with coaching clients. One of the best ways to find “What to talk about” is to work with at least one other person. When working with clients, I listen and ask questions, so they hear themselves! You can do the same when working with others to discover what to talk about.

Ask questions like:

  • What did you learn from that?
  • What happened next?
  • What will you do differently the next time that happens?
  • So what?
  • Why would anyone want to hear that story?

From now on. . .

No more, “Nothing to talk about” excuses for not giving a presentation.

Till then, make your next presentation – NO SWEAT!

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Have no fear when it comes to public speaking! Learn to perfect your presentation skills with these AMA resources and seminars:

About The Author

Fred E. Miller is the principal of “NO SWEAT Public Speaking!” He is a speaker, an international coach, and an author. His first book, “NO SWEAT Public Speaking!” was published in 2011. He recently published a new and revised edition of one of his other books, “NO SWEAT Elevator Speech!” This is one of the topics he speaks and gives workshops on. Many people struggle with this Personal Mini-Infomercial. His website,, has over two hundred articles and videos on Public Speaking and Presentation Skills. His Mantra is: “Speaking Opportunities are Business, Career, and Leadership Opportunities.” He received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Missouri before taking his first sales position with Proctor & Gamble. His entrepreneurial business background includes being the owner, or partner, in five successful business-to-business companies.


  1. avatar

    Hi Vickie,

    Sorry to hear that. We tried to honor your request, but don’t see you in the system. If you are receiving emails you don’t want you ought to be able to hit “unsubscribe”. If you are having trouble doing that please forward the email to us or confirm the email address where it is being sent.


  2. avatar

    Take me OFF your list of recipients.

  3. avatar

    Great advice. Everyone has a story and no one an tell it better than they can themselves.

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