Butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth and sweaty palms are just some of the telltale symptoms of glossophobia—the fear of public speaking. It’s a fear shared by millions of people, from students to actors to corporate executives.
But don’t worry if you think you might be glossophobic. You’re not alone. Even people who have jobs involving public speaking sometimes need a little help.
Voice coaches Julie Foh and Jeff Parker are in Boulder this summer helping Colorado Shakespeare Festival actors find their voices—literally.
Their work with CSF mostly involves fine-tuning Shakespearean accents and dialects, but Foh and Parker also coach skills applicable to everyone, not just those delivering monologues to their star-crossed lover.
As Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage.” Foh and Parker shared seven strategies to help you nail your next performance.
Practice makes perfect
A speech can start to go wrong—or right—long before you ever take the stage. Preparing days or weeks in advance boosts confidence and helps calm your nerves during a big speech.
“If you’ve rehearsed your speech a couple times, it’s very likely you’ll walk into the room with a lot more confidence in what you have to deliver,” said Parker. “Rehearsing means not only practicing the words, but practicing the delivery.”
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 62nd season kicked off on June 7 and will run through Aug. 11.
The 2019 season includes productions of Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, King Charles III and King John.
You don’t have to be an actor or singer to benefit from vocal warmups. Warming up, which can be as easy as singing in the shower or stretching the muscles around your neck and torso, can expand your pitch range as well as improve vocal clarity and power.
“I’d recommend it to anyone who is using their voice publicly or getting ready to speak in front of a large group,” said Foh. “It gives you a better chance of being intelligible and interesting to your audience.”
Most people experience some degree of nervousness before speaking in front of groups. There are many ways to help calm those nerves, including paying attention to gravity and your connection with the floor, taking deep intentional breaths and singling out individual audience members to focus on during the speech.
When it comes to the old advice of imagining the audience in their underwear, Foh and Parker have different paths to success. Foh thinks the idea can boost confidence by reminding the speaker they have a little bit of status over the audience. Parker prefers imagining the audience with little pennants and flags—a reminder that the audience is almost always rooting for the talk to go well.
Be careful with notecards
Committing a speech to memory is often ideal but not always possible. When you don’t have the time to memorize all your lines, notecards can be a necessary and valuable safety blanket. Just be careful not to bury your nose in your notes.
“Notecards are rarely a bad idea, even if they’re just used for reference,” said Parker. “The only time when note cards can become a problem is that they can be a safer place to put your focus and attention than the audience.”
Lead with a joke
Humor can be a useful tool for easing the tension for both the speaker and the audience. With the possible exception of some of the most serious speeches, Foh and Parker agree on the value of a good joke.
“Maybe not at a funeral, but there are very few instances where public speaking isn’t lightened with a nice joke,” said Parker. “A joke reminds everyone that we’re all human.”
Avoid ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’
Filling moments of thought with repetitive “ums” and “ahs” can be one of the hardest habits to break for a public speaker. Filler words like those can signal a lack of confidence and lead the audience to think the speaker isn’t as passionate or invested as they would hope.
“Give yourself permission to be silent. If you need a moment to gather your thoughts, let it be a silent inhalation or exhalation,” said Foh. “Sometimes those moments of silence or pauses can be scary for a public speaker, but they can be useful for giving the audience a moment to process what the speaker has just said.”
Use your hands
Public speaking should be a refined version of your day-to-day conversations. It’s perfectly natural to use gestures to emphasize a point, but be careful not to distract from your message with unnecessary hand movements. It shouldn’t look like you’re playing charades.
“I think you should be intentional about it,” said Foh. “Gestures are choices that will help facilitate your audience’s understanding rather than taking attention away from the actual language that you are using to communicate your ideas.”
Julie Foh is an assistant professor of voice and speech at the University of Connecticut and Jeff Parker works as an associate professor of theatre at Metropolitan State University of Denver.