man speaking in front of an audience in a theater

If you’re like a lot of people, you’d sooner endure a root canal than speak to an audience. That’s understandable—and common; the aversion to public speaking even has a clinical name: Glossophobia.

As a small business owner, you can avoid performing this particular job requirement (and for many, it is a requirement) for only so long. Eventually you’ll need to stand before a breakout session—or a packed auditorium, or a conference room full of potential investors or customers—and speak. Maybe you’ll be selling a new product, pitching prospects, making an announcement, sharing your expertise, or even making a toast at your best friend’s wedding. But it’ll be just you and a sea of faces.

Some people’s glossophobia is so intense, they melt down at the prospect. You don’t have to, and you shouldn’t. Do a good job—or even just a passable job—with this one challenge, and you’ll set yourself up for a triumph. Consider these tips for improving your presentation skills:


Days or weeks before your scheduled speaking time, do some advance work.

  • Make sure you know your facts and figures so you can speak confidently to the topic. Review and update as necessary.
  • Write out your presentation and practice it frequently. First, live to an empty room. Next, for a video camera—like the one on your mobile device.
  • Playback your video silently and observe your gestures, then turn the sound on and listen for ways to modulate your voice.
  • Practice overpronouncing some of the words and see if they sound more understandable on playback. Get familiar with the feel of certain consonants (especially words ending in c, d and t) on your lips. Practice until it stops feeling exaggerated.
  • To punctuate your words, practice hand and arm gestures. You want them to read as authentic and natural. Practice pointing to your left when you want the audience looking at a screen on their right. When counting off a quick series of points (first, second, third…) make sure your fingers agree with your words.
  • Use this feedback loop to hone your presentation’s content and delivery.
  • Think through questions and comments you’re likely to get from audience members—and be prepared with coherent and thoughtful answers. Even if there’s no formal Q & A on your program, you’ll benefit from being ready.
  • If possible, visit the site where you’ll be speaking. Get a feel for the layout, facilities and audiovisual equipment. Make a mental note of which parts of the room you can gravitate to. Practice, even if only in your head, walking out from behind the podium and taking control of the room. Learn what corners provide the best vantage point for you and your audience to see each other. If you’re responsible for managing your own visuals, check what resources are available so you can get comfortable with them early.

At the podium

  • Ease into making eye contact. It helps people trust you. Start by gazing at just the tops of people’s heads, then lower your gaze incrementally to include foreheads, eyes and full faces as you speak.
  • Speak extra clearly. People are distracted, and most presentation rooms have suboptimal acoustics. Compensate for this by slowing down and enunciating. Speak to the back row.
  • Pay attention to tone. You don’t want to bore your audience with monotonous delivery (which is a natural defense mechanism if you’re already nervous)—or annoy them by emoting unrealistically. You want to find your own authentic sweet spot in between those extremes. Let some (maybe not all) of your passion for the subject matter shine through.
  • Walk casually and deliberately. Move about the room, making eye contact with as many audience segments as possible. If you’ve had a chance to practice, you’ll feel more in control.

Extra help

Some people need a little extra help overcoming their glossophobia. And that’s ok. Consider joining a support group like Toastmasters, or a short, focused course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are also medications available that reduce the anxiety without compromising your concentration or leaving you glassy-eyed.

Big-picture reminders

  • Everyone gets nervous before speaking. Your audience wants you to succeed.
  • Do lots of deep breathing, especially in the moments before you take the spotlight. It’s a proven way to slow your heart rate and reduce stress.
  • Don’t fear pauses and silences that occur naturally in any give-and-take. Take the time you need to compose your thoughts.

Improving your public speaking skills is a great way to gain greater credibility and reach with the audiences you depend on. And conquering a lingering fear can free you to be your own best ally. For more ways to achieve more with your small business, contact our financing experts at 1-855-WHY-PANGO (1-855-949-7264).