Managing the fear | AUA Blog

Dr. Kenton Lewis MBE
Independent Consultant and Educationalist

When I was young, there was nothing I found more intimidating, more scary, more worrying than the idea of having to speak in public. It didn’t matter what format it was in. Any sitation where I was speaking to an audience, and where that audience was watching (aka staring) at me, was as big a challenge as anything I could have faced.

Things didn’t change when I started work – well, one thing changed. I was increasingly finding myself in situations where I HAD to speak publicly. Where I HAD to speak up at a team meeting, or present a paper to a committee, or formally present ideas to an expectant audience. And as those situations publicly became more and more common place, my anxiety increased exponentially.

So, one day, I decided to do something about it. I decided to switch how I thought about public speaking. I decided to build approaches that helped me through it. I developed tactics that let me “fake it ‘til I made it”. It wasn’t easy. It took a long time. And public speaking is still something I work hard at improving. The difference now though, is that I regularly speak publicly, and to as wide a range of audiences as you can imagine – young, old, newcomers, experts, excited, bored, energised, tired, supportive, aggressive – the full gamut. I now deliver presentations locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

And for the last ten years or so I’ve been helping other people – those who, like me, have found the idea of public speaking challenging – to find their voice; to become more confident and more competent in their abilities.

To give you a few pointers, these are the ideas that I most frequently start with.

Practice: this cannot be overstated enough. The most effective way to develop, to learn and to find your own voice is to keep practicing. Bite the bullet and seek out opportunities to practice. You can start small – for example, when at an event with table discussion, volunteer to be the one who feeds back on behalf of your group. Help yourself get used to hearing your own voice projected out to a larger auidence

Be kind and forgiving to yourself: all too frequently we set unobtainable expectations of our own performance. This is unhelpful. Be kind to yourself as you grow as a public speaker, and kick out perfectionism.


Remember to breathe: without breath we cannot use our voice. It’s a basic building block, but one that we forget about too easily. Deep breathing before a presentation helps physically and mentally, and breathing exercises help to build core performance strength

Engage physically: once we are breathing properly we can really engage our physicality. Whatever your size or shape, how you hold yourself has a huge bearing on how you present. Remind yourself that you are a physical being, able to command the space around you and to project positivity

Value silence: anxiety about public speaking can cause physiological reactions that speed us up. We start to talk quicker, breathe shallower, and trip over our own message. Taking a breathe and a pause helps you physically, keeps you on message, and helps the audience relax

Keep it simple: too often we try to cram more into a presentation than there is space for. Audiences struggle to remember, so stick to three key messages – three key ideas that you want them to leave with. This approach also helps in refining your ideas into concise and impactful messages

Accept the fear: don’t fight it. Realise that feeling anxious or worried is a sign of just how much you care. That’s a very positive thing. So let that become the passion that drives your presentation and truly engages your audience

If you want to know more about how Kenton overcame his fears about public speaking and become the person he is today, you can contact him directly

Alternatively, why not sign up to the AUA presentation skills training programme Public Speaking Masterclass that Kenton will next be running in London on 24 January 2020.

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