Communicate with Confidence – Taking the fear out of public speaking – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about interpersonal communication and the four levels of conversation. Level 1 started with small talk while at the other end, Level 4, one finds themselves in a full-blown relationship with the other person. We learned that people could have a fear of speaking to others one-on-one as well as speaking in front of groups. In this post, we will discuss tips and tricks to help ease the anxiety of talking to others as well as having those “difficult” conversations we must all face at some time in our careers.

Talking Tips and Tricks

Tip #1 Breathe!

This tip may seem obvious. The next time, however, you are feeling anxious about talking to someone, notice the way you are breathing. You are likely holding your breath or breathing irregularly. This irregular breathing may cause some people to hyperventilate.  According to, “Anxiety can affect your breathing. On the other hand, your breathing can affect feelings of anxiety.” Sounds like a catch-22 to me! Breathing properly helps to relieve anxiety as it slows down the heart rate almost immediately.

Few people breathe correctly. To do so, breathe in through your nose to the count of 5, hold your breath for 2-3 seconds, then exhale through your mouth to the count of 5.  When you inhale properly, you should feel your chest expand and feel almost as if you are getting taller. Make sure you inhale all the way into your abdomen dropping your shoulders down. When you exhale, you should feel the air flowing out from the abdomen to the chest and out your mouth letting your muscles relax. You will feel almost as if you are getting shorter.  Think of an eye dropper on a bottle filling up with liquid and then releasing it. Repeat this breathing several times when you are feeling anxious about talking with another person.

Tip #2 – Maintain Eye Contact – Sort of!

You’ve always been told, to be taken seriously you must hold eye contact with the other person. Holding eye contact tells the other person, “I am listening” and let’s face it, we all want to be heard. What you probably didn’t know is there is a hack that allows you to give the other person the feeling you are looking them in the eye even when you are not. How? Look at their face between the eyes and just slightly above the nose. Because your eyes will be directed in an area very close to the eyes, it will be very difficult for the other person to realize you are not gazing into their eyes.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to be able to make eye contact. Why? The eyes can tell you more about a person than almost anything. The eyes can tell if they are interested in you, if they are interested in what you are saying, if their smile is genuine, or if they are being deceptive. Likewise, your eyes can tell the other person the same about you!

Begin by practicing with yourself. Can you look yourself in the eyes while looking in the mirror? If not, begin with just a few seconds and gradually increase until you can comfortably look yourself in the eye for several minutes. Then, move on to someone you know and follow the same pattern. Finally, try looking a stranger in the eye when speaking with them even if only for a few seconds. It’s okay if you look away. Like anything else, it will take practice to be able to do so comfortably; you will find it is worth the effort!

Tip #3 – Practice!

I mentioned Toastmaster’s International in my previous post. Their club meetings are broken into different segments. I believe the most important portion of the meeting is what is known as “Table Topics.” While there are several variations on how Table Topics is conducted, the goal is the same across clubs. “Table Topics is a long-standing Toastmasters tradition intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic.” In other words, Table Topics was designed to practice thinking on your feet.

You can join a local Toastmasters club or work with a friend for practice and feedback. Ask your friend to come up with several questions on different topics. Then, have them pick one of the questions to ask you. Once they ask the question, pause for a few moments to think about your answer and then answer the question in 1-2 minutes. Remember, even in the real world, it is okay to pause and consider your answer when asked a question instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Your listener will appreciate you took the time to think about your answer!

Tip #4 – The Underwear Trick

Yes, I said the underwear trick. I have been told many times, to alleviate your fears, picture your audience in their underwear. Unfortunately, this is not effective. Why? Concentrating on visualizing your audience in their underwear will cause one of three things to occur.

  1. You will be so focused on the visualization, you will not hear what they are saying.
  2. You will be so focused on the visualization, you will forget what you are saying.
  3. Once you do get the image into your head, you may find it amusing and laugh at a very inappropriate time!

Difficult Discussions

Even if we are comfortable with someone, we may have to have a difficult or challenging conversation at some point. In addition to utilizing the above tips, the following should help get you through those conversations we just don’t like to have with others.

Tip #5 – Seating

Peoples receptiveness to what you are saying will be affected by where you sit or stand in relation to them. If you want to garner co-operation, keep the following in mind.

Sitting directly across from the other person can put one on the defensive as the table acts as a competitive barrier. If you are seeking to persuade someone, this position will not help to produce the desired results.

Sitting at the table in what is known as the corner position (each person sits on one side of the same corner) allows for good eye contact, opportunity to assess body language and gestures, and avoids the competitive barrier of the table.

Keep the same eye level – if the other person is standing, stand. If the other person is sitting, sit keeping in mind the sitting positions mentioned above. If you stand while the other person is sitting, you will give the impression of speaking down to the other person. Since they will already be on the defensive, you don’t want to make it more difficult by increasing their defensive posture.

In the opposite scenario, if you are sitting while the other person stands, it lessens your position of authority as the other person is now looking down at you. They will find it difficult to take you seriously if you sit while they stand. What if you sit behind a desk you ask? You are introducing that barrier again, much like the table mentioned above. Therefore, you are more apt to put the person on the defensive by creating that competitive barrier.

Tip #6 – Speaking, Listening, Feeling, Believing

  1. Keep your tone of voice neutral controlling how fast or slow you speak. This will allow the other person to hear your words and not your emotions which could negatively affect their ability to receive your message.
  2. Do not attack the other person. Describe the situation as you perceive it in a clear and factual manner. Use specific examples. If you can’t use specific examples, you will not garner agreement or cooperation from the other person on the issue.
  3. Be an active listener. Give the other person a chance to respond and do not interrupt or be thinking about how you will respond to their comments. They may have some valid reasons or concerns. When they are finished speaking, ask clarifying questions. Showing you were actively listening and wanting to get to the truth of the matter will go along way in resolving the issue being discussed.
  4. Give up your need to be right. Needing to be right puts you back into that competitive stance. People are uncomfortable when placed in a win or lose situation and will usually do what is necessary to win. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about resolving whatever the issue may be in a cooperative manner.
  5. Take responsibility for how you feel and don’t make assumptions. Only you can let yourself feel the way you do. Begin statements with “I feel..”…” or “I believe…”. Address the person’s actions that are causing the issue and not the person. And do not assume you know or understand what the other person is thinking, feeling, or their motivations. Every person is different, and every person can change or respond differently based on the situation.
  6. Finally, think about how your personal biases may be influencing your perception of a situation and give them the benefit of the doubt. Try to see things from their side and consider factors you may not have known about or considered that could have affected their decision. Realize mistakes are caused by situations not by one’s personality. Learn to assume the best of a person and they will most often rise to the occasion.

What We’ve Learned

In this article, we learned everyone must have difficult and challenging conversations whether it is in our work life or our personal life. There are ways however, to help these conversations go smoother and reach a desired outcome. Two excellent articles that dig deeper into tips and tricks are listed at the bottom of this post. Maintaining composure will take practice for most of us and that’s okay. Before that difficult conversation, practice what you will say and how you will say it. Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself on your phone to allow you to see how you look and sound. Take a deep breath and go for it!

Next Time

In my next post, we will dig into public speaking and what makes a for a great presentation. See you then!

– pzj –



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