Passivity is out; speaking up is no longer an optional skill. Successful people are both vocal and visible. Even if you’ve managed to avoid communication challenges to date, you will most likely not be able to cower in the back room much longer. Whether you’re called upon to make a presentation or conduct a meeting, communication proficiency is essential for endurance in today’s marketplace. Sitting quietly by the sidelines could put you at the top of the layoff list or place your business at risk.

Fear of speaking is the number one fear of adults, rated higher than fear of heights or snakes. Yet, chances are that you feel confident in some speaking situations and more intimidated by others where you may lack skills or practice. To help you to identify your speaking strengths and weaknesses, spend a few minutes taking the following Speaking Up Profile:


Rate the items below from 1-5
1) I feel very relaxed in this situation
2) I feel OK in this situation
3) I feel neutral in this situation
4) I feel nervous in this situation
5) I either avoid or panic in this situation

1) Participating in a committee meeting at work or at a community organization

2) Listening to your boss or colleague commend your work in public

3) Attending a small dinner party with friends

4) Giving a ten minute speech to an audience of twenty to fifty people

5) Chairing a meeting with five to fifteen people

6) Meeting someone new that you want to get to know

7) Attending a large formal party of one hundred people

8) Listening to your colleagues discuss your proposal at a meeting

9) Conducting a workshop with an audience of fifty or more people

10) Appearing on radio or television

11) Being interviewed for a job or by a new client

12) Asking a physician or other professional a series of questions about yourself

13) Asking a total stranger for assistance

14) Making conversation at a medium-sized party

15) Answering impromptu questions about your work, your product, or your ideas

16) Making a sales presentation to one person

17) Making a sales presentation to five or more people

18) Giving a dinner presentation to total strangers

19) Giving a presentation to a group of people you know

20) Trying to resolve a conflict with a co-worker

21) Disciplining an employee

22) Defending yourself

23) Speaking to people you perceive to be brighter than yourself

24) Asking for something you want

25) Networking at a large business meeting

First of all, congratulate yourself for those items you rated 1 through 3. These are communication challenges that are easy and fruitful for you. You want to take advantage of these speaking opportunities as much as possible. For example, Ted, an introverted accountant, feels most comfortable dealing one-to-one with people. So he creates occasions where he can meet with people individually. When he does group presentations, he keeps his audience small and personal and then meets with each participant for a follow-up meeting.

Note in particular the items you rated as 4 and 5. Tanya almost passed up a promotion because it demanded that she run staff meetings, while Jonah avoided social events which restricted the growth of his network. Their fear and/or lack of experience limited their professional growth and earning capacity. So, decide which one of your 4's or 5's, you want to tackle first. (A word of caution. If you have a history of panic attacks or an intense fear of speaking, it may be difficult to master this alone. You may want to get additional support from a speech coach, psychotherapist, or a group like Toastmasters.) Once you’ve selected your first goal, then you can use these guidelines to help you build your skill base.

To help you overcome your nervousness in most speaking situations, try the following tips:

1) Keep a log of yourself as a communicator and look in detail at your individual patterns.

2) In advance of a communication challenge, assertively strategize an action plan to minimize stressors for you. Joel prefers to sit down when he makes a presentation so he always asks for a stool. Barbara finds it helpful to go early to a meeting and network for a while before she is called to speak.

3) Faithfully use the Presentation Checklist which you will find later in this topic area. Set one personal goal per presentation. For example, your goal may be: I will speak more slowly. Watch out for the demon of perfectionism.

4) Visualize yourself successfully enacting this presentation. This mental rehearsal will increase your confidence. Some people imagine what could go wrong and plan ahead how to handle it.

5) Learn and regularly practice a relaxation exercise and use it prior to your presentation. If you begin to get nervous, breathe deeply.

6) Focus on communicating your message clearly to your audience. Don’t overload them. Simplicity is a communication virtue.

7) Carefully observe people whose speaking style you admire but then adapt these techniques into your own format that reflects your personality.

8) Compete only with yourself and acknowledge that speaking up is an ability that develops as the result of building on small incremental goals.

9) Keep a second log of all of your successful speaking experiences and refer to it when your confidence waivers.

10) Practice regularly and think about joining a speaking group, like Toastmasters, or taking a class to increase your expertise. If your current job has few opportunities for you to practice speaking, create them. Offer to introduce speakers or moderate a panel at your association or community group, or set up your own practice team with peers.

Author's Bio: 

Gail McMeekin, MSW, LICSW, is a nationally known career/creativity/life choices coach and consultant and the author of the highly acclaimed books, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, The Power of Positive Choices and Boost your Creativity. Her work has been featured in many periodicals such as Boston Magazine, Investor's Business Daily, Redbook, and Health, as well as on radio and TV. You can subscribe to her free newsletter “Creative Success” and receive a new free e-book called The Path to Creative Success at . You may contact her at