Note: This article was updated in February 2023.

A pounding heart.

A dry mouth.

Lungs devoid of air, and wobbly legs threatening to give way as I slowly advanced to the stage.

When I opened my mouth, a squeaky, panicky voice I didn’t recognise burst forth…

Those physical symptoms I experienced when called upon to read a few lines at an event were overwhelming.

And that was all I was required to do: read. Yet, at the time, I’d have gratefully chosen the option of the earth opening and consuming me, instead of speaking in front of an unfamiliar audience.

The anxiety was real, so I get it when some statistics show that  40% of us suffer from glossophobia—anxiety and/or phobia of public speaking—and that most people prefer death to public speaking.

I think that figure is conservative, however, because I’ve read accounts of many professional speakers admitting to being nervous before events.

So I’m not alone and neither are you. Extroverts are not exempt either. In your professional or entrepreneurial journey, you will face that panic, with the accompanying physical and psychological symptoms, when you’re poised to give a speech/presentation/keynote to an (intimidating) audience.

And trust me, it won’t matter if you’ve given that presentation a hundred times, or if you can recite that speech in your sleep. Those moments of woe can suddenly strike, leaving you raw and emotionally drained just before, and even during the event.

Numerous suggestions are available to help you navigate the path to fearless public speaking. This post from Harvard Business Review lists practical points that will help.

Moreover, preparation begets confidence. Therefore, practise thoroughly before the event, and you’d become less fearful and more convinced that you’d do well.

Visualising yourself performing brilliantly also works wonders. Don’t scoff at this idea.

Experts even recommend diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, for calming nerves and for powerful vocals.

You should also expand your knowledge by taking courses, reading materials or watching videos online.  As I’ve advised elsewhere on this blog, joining your local Toastmasters Club and watching TED talks will hone your public speaking skills.

Additionally, getting coached by experts in the field or adopting their recommendations will expose you to best practices.

For example:

I) Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame speaker, uses techniques gleaned from over 30 years of public speaking experience to teach you how to conduct compelling presentations and inspiring keynotes.

II) Nancy Duarte is also an authority on presentations. She and her team regularly share tested methods for masterful outcomes.

III) John Zimmer is an internationally recognised speaker and expert on public speaking, presentation skills, and persuasion. He shares insightful content to elevate your speaking skills.

IV) Dr Gary Genard, who developed The Genard Method—specialised public speaking training based on techniques of the theatre—helps you ‘perform’ dynamic presentations.

V) Suzannah Baum is great for unleashing your speaking potential—in a charming manner.

Therefore, you needn’t search far for solutions to your public speaking challenges. Nevertheless, note that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the information you receive. You could also become convinced that those useful tips won’t work for you because of your unique personality or circumstance.

Specifically, you want to stay true to yourself; you don’t want to morph into someone inauthentic by pretending to be someone you’re not.

Again, I get it.

My ‘situation’ is almost a contradiction: an introvert who’s a communications trainer/coach, who has lectured to a group of over 85 people in a packed room, and who has led focus groups, facilitated seminars and delivered one-on-one coaching sessions. Through all these activities, it was important that I felt at ease, but prepared.

So fellow introverts,  don’t despair – you can still be yourselves and become convincing speakers. After all, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and even Gandhi, labelled introverts, were known for their persuasive deliveries in their roles.

Those who know me personally might wonder how I’m able to do those things since I’m most comfortable being left alone to do my best work. Well, below are techniques that work for me. They could be tweaked for your circumstance:

1) Prioritise your audience’s needs

This is the number one rule for effective communication in general.

In public speaking, whether you’re giving a speech, presentation or delivering a paper, consider what will be relevant to your audience. Then prepare the content so that whatever you share is useful. Eliminate good-to-know information that bears no significance to the needs of your audience members. Remember that they decide in 30 seconds or less, whether whatever talking about will be worth their attention.

You should also consider how to open your session with a bang so that you ‘hook’ your audience from the moment you open your mouth.

2) Keep your message simple, brief and clear

The ‘curse of knowledge’ is real, and well-meaning speakers often fall into its enticing trap. This happens when you’re so knowledgeable about the subject matter that you use the language you assume is understood by your audience. Apart from loading your speech/presentation with jargon, you delve into the complexities of your topic in painful detail.

Even if your audience members are a learned bunch, attention spans wane easily and you’d lose them quickly if you waffle on.

Moreover, avoid being lost in your world that you don’t communicate a clear call-to-action for your audience to take after your talk.

In other words, adhere to what I’ve coined as the three ‘beacons of effective communication’ on this blog: Keep your message simple, brief and clear. Your audience will be grateful for your precision.

3) Share your story

Even though you shouldn’t tire your audience with too much relevant information, it’s always reassuring for them to learn about your struggles and how you overcame them. These stories make you human and thus relatable.

Storytelling is a compelling tool that connects you with your audience. It’s also one of the easiest ways for them to remember your messages.

You don’t need to be an orator to share your experiences. Just tell your stories as you would to a trusted friend, but remember to use the appropriate language.

4) Unleash your vocal power

Your voice is a useful asset, giving you different ‘flavours’ and richness depending on how it’s used. This cheat sheet to vocal dynamics explains how to tweak your voice to influence people.

5) Use positive nonverbal cues

Maintaining eye contact, smiling, gesturing naturally, and using movement (where appropriate) to highlight your points, all make your sessions engaging.

Use pauses. They can be effective tools that allow your points ‘marinate’ in the psyche of your audience. Don’t overdo them, however. You don’t want to appear insecure.

Avoid ‘defensive’ body language cues like frowning, folding arms across the chest, rolling eyes, and glaring. Similarly, distracting gestures such as incessant blinking, tapping on tables, or repetitive ticks (smoothening hair, adjusting ties, clasping and unclasping hands, etc.) turn your audience’s attention away from you. Eventually, they will disconnect.

Don’t lose your audience to negative nonverbal behaviours.

6) Control your Q&A sessions

One of the most useful components in your public speaking toolkit is your question-and-answer (Q&A) session.

A great Q&A session will make up for the errors you made in your speech/presentation. It is also an opportunity for you to reclaim lost ground, and once more demonstrate how your expertise can solve your audience’s concerns.

But it must be handled in the right way.

As Craig Valentine,  the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International, advises: Never end your speech with the Q&A session.

This is a salient point because such sessions could become rowdy, and you could lose the goodwill you’ve enjoyed or the connection you’ve made during the event. In this post,  the seasoned speaker explains the techniques for making your Q&A sessions memorable.

7) End on a high note         

If you’re like me, then ‘investing’ yourself in a public speaking activity can be mentally draining, especially if the Q&A stint is brutal. Still, persevere and resist the urge to ‘check out’ before your conclusion.

Just like your opening statement, your parting remarks are important because they reiterate your main idea.

I try to end with a declarative phrase or a short sentence in my sessions, where feasible. For example, at the end of one training session on business writing, I mouthed the words below:

“Once you know the rules, there’s no one on this planet who wouldn’t be able to write to“.

It was refreshing to see the reactions of members of the audience.

You can, however, try other suggestions for ending your oral engagements. Nonetheless, what you should note is that your audience tends to remember your openings and closings the most, so make them remarkable.


You could read all the tips for overcoming public speaking anxiety; you could watch the videos, and you could practise the best-kept secrets, but remember this:

The nervousness doesn’t disappear completely.

That’s fine. It just means that you’d need to challenge yourself each time you’re required to speak in public.

And what about those physical manifestations of the anxiety I described at the beginning? Well, I survived the incident and learned what not to do in the future.

Therefore, if there’s one piece of advice I’d stress, it’s this:

It’s not about you and what you know. Make everything about the value you can provide for your audience. You’d connect more meaningfully with them as a result.

Be yourself. Everything else will follow and you’d speak persuasively in your own skin.

And now, over to you:

What other public speaking techniques have helped you in your career?

Kindly post your comments below.

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N.B-   First image is courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, via Second image is courtesy of Xedos4, via Third image is courtesy of Fourth image is courtesy of Stuart Miles, via Last image is courtesy of ScottChan, via

4 Replies to “How To Speak Persuasively…In Your Own Skin”

  1. Hello Suzannah,

    Thanks for reading my post and for the kind words.

    It was a pleasure to list you among other content creators for public speaking. I've been following you for a while and appreciate the useful tips and informative content you share. In fact, I follow all the five experts highlighted in this article, you included, and that's why I believe others would benefit from the sound advice given.

    Drop by again soon!

  2. I loved learning more about your story, and about how you've felt the fear yourself. It's very authentic and 'real' of you to talk about this — especially given that there's a happy ending, in that you're now helping others based on what you learned in your journey. This is a very insightful article, filled with valuable tips, and links to other useful content. I do appreciate the reference — and for you to put me in the company of Patricia Fripp and Nancy Duarte now makes you one of my favorite people ever! Thank you for the great article, and for the kind words.

  3. Thanks Dave for sharing your experience, especially as a presentation expert and author of a book on presentations.

    I think that trick you used is very helpful and is one I always encourage people to adopt. If we also realise that audiences in general, are not diabolical and are not anxious to see us fail, it takes the pressure off being perfect. We can then concentrate on providing value.

    Thanks again for dropping by!


  4. Great article, Lucille! All good points, but it was point number 1 which saved me.

    When I first started presenting I was a nervous wreck. All I could think about was how bad I felt, how the audience was going to judge me, how humiliating it would be if I made a mistake.

    As you can imagine, my first attempts at presenting were pretty bad. The turning point came when I began to focus outwards. When I took all the energy I had been focusing on myself and turned it around to think about how I could help the audience things changed. Thinking about the audience took the pressure off my delivery. No longer was I worried about being judged or making mistakes because I was totally focused on how I could help the people in front of me.

    Thanks again, Lucille!

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