Public Speaking – Managing the #1 Fear in the World

Fear of Public Speaking

My Dad, my first music teacher, taught me clarinet and one of the first things he had me do was perform a solo at a band contest – I was 8 years old and scared out of my gourd, yet I’ve been in front of groups ever since. People often say that it must be easy for me and that I couldn’t possibly be nervous. Well, when it comes to nerves, I get as nervous as anyone else. In fact, when I get up in front of groups, my adrenalin is so pumped, that (at least to me) my face feels flushed, my heart races, and my stomach flips.

Fear of public speaking is the #1 fear in the world – more than death (actually, 75% of people are afraid of public speaking – more than the number who are afraid of death???) – apparently, in life you die once, but in public speaking, you die a thousand times over. Since I make a living in front of groups, whether teaching, presenting, or facilitating, I’ve found some tricks that help manage my nerves. By the way, you don’t eliminate the fear; you learn “how to” manage it.

First of all, my fear is about being judged. So, it isn’t about what I’m going to do or say; it’s about what I think the audience is thinking. Knowing this has helped me because, to me, it is more about how I relate to the audience.

Step Away from the Lectern

When people give presentations, usually they stand behind a lectern putting a gap between themselves and the audience. When nervous, that is the worst place to be. What do they do? They grab onto the sides of the lectern as if it’s their life preserver. Standing with a box between you and the audience, only reinforces that gap and that gap emphasizes the fear of “judgment”. What do I do? I avoid lecterns, even to the point of having them removed from the stage because it prevents me from walking around, which helps dissipate the adrenalin, which helps reduce my nervousness.

Connect with the Audience

Looking at the audience as if they are in their underwear, as many presenters advise, is distracting – I’d rather connect with them. I walk to the audience to feel closer to them. I joke with them when appropriate to ease tension. I make eye contact to connect. If they have nametags, I use their names and shake their hands to make a personal connection. The more I connect with my audience, the easier it becomes for me because I feel part of the group.


I get nervous like the rest of y’all but I’ve learned “how to” manage my fear by removing the gap – stepping away from the lectern and connecting with the audience. Try it; it’ll make you a better presenter.

Common Process Don’ts

In planning a workshop / meeting agenda, there are many processes you can use, but there are also some that should not be used – Common Process Don’ts.  These provide no effective way to make an objective decision.

Common process don’ts that Facilitators should refrain from using.
Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons is a common process don’t used by many Facilitators.  Synonyms are:
  • Pluses and Minuses
  • Advantages and Disadvantages
  • For and Against
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
When one person is deciding between two or more choices, Pros and Cons work well, but when used with two or more people, Pros and Cons are ineffective.  Why?
  • pro for one person can be a con for another.  In this situation, one wins by attrition – you wear the other person down. Example: In selecting a place to live, “an average annual temperature of 72° F” would be a Pro to someone who wanted a moderate climate year-round while it would be a Con to someone who wanted four distinct seasons.
  • There is no effective way to compare.  Do you count how many pros versus how many cons?  Are all weighted the same?

Instead – use Objective Criteria – criteria that can be measured and a prioritizing process to decide between the choices.

Subjective Criteria
Subjective Criteria is another common process don’t used by many Facilitators.  Subjective criteria, e.g., “I like it”, “Management Discretion”, “Vendor Viability”, etc., are meaningless because they mean something different to every person.
Instead – use Objective Criteria – criteria that can be measured.

Two Lists at Once
Two Lists at Once is another common process don’t.  When Facilitators ask questions of participants such as, “What can we do to keep the office open or what do we do if it closes?“, they are asking two questions that require two separate lists.  The problem is that the people will begin listing items for the first question, but as soon as someone lists an item for the second question, they focus on the second list, forgetting the first list.  The Facilitator also has to continuously ask to which list the item belongs.
Instead – ask one question at a time and develop one list at a time.
Accepting only Two Choices
Accepting only Two Choices is another common process don’t.  Facilitators are often presented with having to facilitate between two choices – this is win-lose no matter how you word it because there are never only two choices.
Instead – use Win-Win – you generate as many choices as possible, including off-the-wall choices, and then use Objective Criteria and a prioritizing process to select one out of many.

Paradigms – Challenge and Be Creative – “Headlines”

This PET challenges paradigms and is very useful in describing complex concepts.  An analogous way to help people express complex issues in a non-threatening manner.  Note: This can also be used to develop Visions, Goals, or anything that is complicated to express.
  • To express complex issues in a non-threatening manner.
  • To enable people to describe complex concepts.

Do the following:

    • Break the group into small groups of 4 people each.
    • Explain the rules:
      • Each small group has 20 minutes to create the headline they would like to see on the front cover of “X” (the periodical you selected in preparation) 20 years from now.
      • Write the lead paragraph behind the headline.
      • Write these on flip chart paper – give them markers.
  • Watch what they are doing – they may have questions – ensure that they are clear.
  • After 20 minutes, reconvene the small groups.  Ask each small group to read out their headline.  Capture key ideas and key words used, ensuring that they key are the ones that they want you to capture.
  • Once done, see if one of the headlines stands out to the group.  If so, start with that and incorporate the key ideas and words from the others.  If not, start fresh until the group likes a headline.
    Note: Capture, in bullet points, the key ideas and key words that explain it.  Do not worry about word-smithing the headline.
  • Summarize.

Debriefing Questions:

  • “What patterns or ideas do you see in the headlines?”
  • “What are the headlines telling you?”
  • “How will you use this in the rest of the meeting?”

Structured Thought Processes

A key competency for a Facilitator is the ability to Plan Appropriate Group Processes.  A well thought out process (agenda) makes the difference in enabling participants to achieve their goal.  A poor process leaves the group struggling.  A process that mirrors a structured thought process enables the group to progress without missing key ideas.

Structured thought processes organize the thoughts of the people enabling them to methodically think through a problem, make a decision, prioritize a list, etc.  These help when you are designing a process and/or when the people get stuck on something.  Knowing the basic structured thought patterns helps.  Some basic structured thought patterns are:
  • For Problem-Solving:
    • Symptoms – Cause – Solution
    • Problem Statement – Objectives – Solutions – Select Solution
  • For Setting Direction:
    • Vision – Goals – Objectives – Tactics
    • Why – Where – How – When
  • For Defining Actions:
    • What – Who – When
    • What are we Doing – What are the Barriers – What do we want to Accomplish – How do we get There
    • Overall Goal – Steps to reach Goal – Sequence of Steps

Note: These help without missing critical components, such as “Overall Goal”.

Questions to Think About 
The following questions will help you think through the process to ensure a well structured thought process.
  • Are the potential Participants disagreeing about Objectives?
    • Yes – have them define the Overall Goal.
  • Are the potential Participants disagreeing about Criteria?
    • Yes – have them define a clear Objective.
  • Are the potential Participants disagreeing about which is first, second, etc.?
    • Yes – have them agree on the end result – the Outcome.
  • Are the potential Participants stuck on how to solve a problem?
    • Yes – Have them agree on a clear Problem Statement.
  • Are the potential Participants disagreeing about Priorities?
    • Yes – have them define the Overall Goal or Objective.
Note:  All structured thought processes build top-down, i.e., they begin with a broad, overall understanding and delve into the details.

Paradigms – Challenge and Be Creative – “Circle Variation”

“Circle Variation” helps people recognize that they have paradigms that constrain their ability to solve problems.  Note: This PET has been adapted from Interactive Strategies for Improving Performance, by Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Tracy Tagliati, Matthew Richter, and Raja Thiagarajan.  It is from a “Jolt” called, Don’t Lift the Pen.
  • To recognize that paradigms exist. 
Do the following:
  • Draw the following picture on flip chart paper:paradigms-one
    • Challenge the people to draw a similar picture on a piece of paper, but they must do it without lifting their pen and without retracing any lines.
    • Give them 2 minutes to solve the problem.  Watch what they do as they struggle to solve the problem.  If some people do solve it, acknowledge their solution, but don’t share it with the others.
  • After 2 minutes, call time, share the solution, and debrief the people.  The solution:paradigms-two
Debriefing Questions:
  • “What challenges did you encounter?”
  • “What paradigms did you encounter?”
  • “How might this help with the issue at hand?”

Understanding Someone Else – “If I Were You…”

This PET is a way to promote mutual understanding between the people – not agreement.  It helps people look at the world through another’s eyes.  This helps them suspend their own point of view and gain new insights.
  • To promote mutual understanding between people.
  • To help people see another’s point of view.

Do the following:
    • Have the attendees choose a statement beginning with, “If I were you…” such as, “If I were you, my main goals would be…”
    • Write each person’s name on 2 slips of paper and put all the slips of paper into a bag, box, etc.
    • Have each person draw out 2 slips of paper (not his or her own) so that each person has the names of 2 different people.
    • Give everyone a turn being the focus person.  Note: When someone is the focus person, the 2 people who have that person’s name will take 3 minutes each to say to him or her, “If I were you…”
    • After listening, the focus person has 3 minutes to respond.
  • When everyone has had a turn, ask the people to share any insights they gained from the statements or from the responses.
Debriefing Questions:
  • “How did you feel when you were the focus person?”
  • “How did you feel when you were speaking to the focus person?”
  • “What insights did you gain from the statements?  From the responses?”

Responsibility Matrix – RASI

The Responsibility Matrix – Responsible, Authorize/Approve, Support, and Informed (RASI) process is useful when defining areas of responsibility.  I present it here because I have listened to people struggle with a different version – Responsible, Accountable, Consult, and Informed (RACI).  The “C” and the “S” are used the same way.  The difference is in how the “A” is defined.  With RACI, it is defined as “Accountable“.  This confuses people because they don’t understand the difference between Responsible and Accountable – in life, if you are responsible, you are also held accountable, so it is confusing.  I define them as “Responsible” and “Authorize/Approve” because if I’m responsible I need to know who authorizes or approves my work (i.e., who signs off) making the roles and responsibilities clearer.  Let me know how it works for you.


Responsibility Matrix (RASI) – is used to define four areas of responsibility and who is responsible for each task. It enables Participants to document who is Responsible, who Authorizes/Approves, who Supports, and who must be Informed. This process is used for any planning activity as well as documenting the current organizational responsibilities for review when restructuring an organization or set of processes.


Do the following:

  • Define each of the four areas of responsibility – note that each implies all that follow:
    • R – Responsible – is held responsible for the success and completion of a given task.
    • A – Authorizes/Approves – (authorize before and approve after) signs off on the method or results of a given task.
    • S – Supports – provides assistance, information, etc., for a given task – if requested.
    • I – Informed – must to be kept informed of the progress or results of a given task.
  • Draw a matrix on a white board, or large roll of paper with the tasks listed across the top – “what” – and the names of the people – “who” – listed down the left side (see illustration below).
  • Ask, “Who will be responsible for this task?”   Write an R, with a red colored marker so it stands out, in the box under the task by their name. (You must have one and only one person responsible for every given task – otherwise it doesn’t get done.)
  • Ask, “Who authorizes or approves the work?”   Write an A in the box(es) under the given task by their name. (You may have more than one person.)
  • Ask, “Who will help?” Write an S in the box(es) under the task by their name. (Not every given task will have someone to help and others may have more than one person.)
  • Ask, “Who must be informed?” Write an I in the box(es) under the task by their name. (Not every given task will have someone to inform and others may have more than one person.)
  • Continue until all responsibilities are assigned. Review the matrix with the Participants to see that the assigned responsibilities are clear. Adjust if necessary.

rasi - responsibility matrix

Rules to follow:

  • One and only one R per task
  • At least one A who is not the R – may be more than one
  • S only if help is requested – may be more than one
  • I only if MUST be kept informed – may be more than one
  • Implications are:
    • R implies A, S, I
    • A implies S, I
    • S implies I

Challenge Paradigms – Be Creative – “Best of… Worst of…”

“Best of…, Worst of…” is an Improv exercise that enables people to tap into their experiences in a creative, playful, non-threatening manner.  This PET enables you to develop a list of examples from people’s experiences when new ideas, etc., are needed or an issue needs to be resolved.  This PET is from Author Izzy Gesell.

This PET is an Improv game that is designed to enable people to tap into their experiences to list out examples, e.g., people, problems, processes, etc., in a playful manner.


  • To list out examples from people’s experiences.
  • To immediately classify the examples listed.
Do the following:
    • Ask for 4 volunteers – make it safe for them to volunteer but don’t reveal what they are volunteering for.
    • Bring the 4 volunteers up to the front of the room and ask them to stand in a row, in no particular order.
    • Explain the rules:
      • Give them the topic you want them to list out – e.g., “The worst participant I ever facilitated was… (no names, just descriptions)”.
      • Explain that when they have an example, they are to take one step forward and speak out the Best or the Worst (pick one).  Then step back.
      • When someone else is speaking, listen.
      • If two of you step forward at the same time, one of you steps back and waits for the other person to step back before stepping forward.
      • Set a time limit – e.g., 5 minutes.
    • While the volunteers are speaking, on a flip chart, capture what they say – capture as accurately as possible. Note: Keep up with the speakers.
  • Call time when time is up.  Thank the volunteers and ask them to return to their seats.

Debriefing Questions

  • How did you feel as a volunteer?
  • How did you feel as the audience?
  • How might this help with the issue?

Learn to Work Together – “Limericks”

“Limericks” is built on an Improv exercise you can facilitate – one that I learned from Izzy Gesell, Author “Leading with Applied Improv and Humor in the Workplace” – that illustrates how working together and building on to each other’s ideas creates a better solution than competition or tearing down the ideas of others.


Limericks, built on an Improv exercise, illustrates how working together and building on to each other’s ideas creates a better solution than competition or tearing down the ideas of others.  This works great in a business setting.


  • To learn how working together and adding to each other’s ideas, creates a better solution.
  • To have fun.

Do The Following:

    • Ask for 5 volunteers to come up to the front of the room. Have them line up in a row.
    • Explain what a Limerick is (see Limericks Preparation) – give an example and ensure they understand.
    • Ask the people for a topic for the Limerick.
    • Explain to the volunteers what they will be doing:
      • The first volunteer speaker begins the Limerick.
      • The subsequent volunteers will add one line to the Limerick until all 5 have participated.
    • When done, debrief the volunteers and then the Participants.
  • Repeat one or two more rounds, but ask a different volunteer to be the first speaker.  Debrief after each round.
Limericks Preparation:


Become familiar with what a Limerick is and gather some examples to help.  “A limerick is a funny little poem containing five lines.  It has a very distinctive rhythm and rhyme pattern.”
    • Rhythm Pattern: The first, second, and fifth lines all have this rhythm pattern: da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (there are 3 DUMS or beats).  Say, “There once was a fellow named Tim” out loud.  Now say, “da DUM da da DUM da da DUM” out loud.  Both have the same rhythm.The third and fourth lines have a different rhythm pattern: da DUM da da DUM (there are 2 DUMS or beats).  Say, “He fell off the dock” out loud.  Now say “da DUM da da DUM” out loud.  Both have the same rhythm.
  • Rhyme Pattern: The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme with each other.  Those rhyming words are called “A.”  As illustrated in the poem below, the words are ” Peru,” “shoe,” and “true”.The last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.  Those rhyming words are called “B.”  In the example, below, the words are “night” and “fright.”
Here is a famous Limerick.  Notice both the rhyme and rhythm patterns.
  1. There was an old man from Peru, (A)
    da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS)
  2. who dreamed he was eating his shoe. (A)
    da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS)
  3. He awoke in the night (B)
    da DUM da da DUM (2 DUMS)
  4. with a terrible fright, (B)
    da da DUM da da DUM (2 DUMS)
  5. and found out that it was quite true. (A)
    da DUM da da DUM da da DUM (3 DUMS)

When you write a Limerick for the example, make sure that it has the same AABBA rhyme pattern.  Make sure it also has the same 3 DUMS, 3 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 2 DUMS, 3 DUMS rhythm pattern, too.  To verify, recite the poem, substituting “da” for all unaccented or unstressed syllables and “DUM” for all accented or stressed syllables, as shown above.  If your poem doesn’t have a similar rhythm pattern, then you need to make some adjustments.


Debriefing Questions:
  • “What did you observe about working as a team?”
  • “What insights did you gain?”
  • “How did you feel as the first speaker?  As a subsequent speaker?”
  • Ask the people, “How did you feel?”


Challenge Paradigms – Be Creative – Cognitivity

This creativity PET forces people to think about something familiar in a new way.  Use Cognitivity to stimulate creativity, break paradigms, or to energize a group that has been analyzing a situation in depth and is burned out.  Note: This PET can be the basis of an entire workshop if the purpose of the workshop is to generate new ideas.
  • To stimulate creativity by looking at something familiar in a new way.
  • To open up new ways of thinking.
Do the following:
  • Select an object that has a simple geometric shape: ball, cylinder, cone, etc.  You can use any sized object.  Examples are: a role of tape, a glue stick, or a small cardboard box.
  • Hand the object to the first person.
    • Explain the rules:
      • The shape remains the same, but it can be any size, color, material, solid or hollow.
      • Each person has to say one idea about the shape – how it can be used.
        • Record the ideas on a flip chart in two columns: New and Old.
          • Old ideas are things that already exist in that shape – example: a cone represents an ice cream cone.
          • New ideas are new uses for that shape – example: a cone can be a new shape for soft drinks – the tip replaces the need for a straw.
      • In order for a new idea to be recorded, the person must present at least one advantage, as in the example above.
  • Pass the object around to the next person until all have participated.
      • After one go-around, you can:
        • Continue if the people want to continue.
        • Reflect on the change in energy of the group if you are using this to energize the group and use the new energy to better accomplish the task.
    • Repeat the PET, only this time; replace the object with what they are struggling with.  At the end, discuss the new ideas in detail.  These become possible solutions.
Debriefing Questions:
  • What did you learn about the topic that you didn’t know before?
  • Are there any surprises?  What are they?