Does the thought of giving a speech in public seem less fun than going for a dip in the Arctic in January? You're not alone. Not only is there a technical term for fear of public speaking, glossophobia, it's apparently one of the most feared experiences in modern America, with 75 percent of people reporting some anxiety about public speaking. A thriving industry of books, CDs, and classes exists to help people conquer it and explain why it's so terrifying (one expert says it's the lack of personal connection with your audience — unlike a normal conversation, you can't read their faces for cues). One of the most famous, the industrialist Dale Carnegie's public speaking course, has been going since 1912.
Many famous speechmakers throughout history actually concealed crippling fears about putting themselves on a podium. Some of them suffered from speech impediments: Aristotle, Samuel L. Jackson, and Winston Churchill all stuttered as children, and Sir Isaac Newton, discoverer of the theory of gravity, once asked that the windows of the British Parliament be closed so that the crowd couldn't hear him stammering. Others, like the philanthropist Warren Buffet, were just terrified; Buffet told Forbes that he dropped out of a public speaking course once out of sheer terror.
If you're looking for practical tips, the Mayo Clinic's guide on how to get through a speech, from breathing to visualization, is a helpful step-by-step process. If, however, you want some inspiration to help you conquer your fear, this collection of quotes about public speaking from some of the world's most eloquent people will spur you on your way. You'll be holding them spellbound in no time.
On the value of fear:
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave." — Mark Twain
Mark Twain, who once also said that people who gave speeches were either nervous or liars, knew about what it meant to face an audience and be terrified. He suffered horrendous stage fright, but managed to conquer it, and wrote a best-selling essay about his nerve-wrenching first experience on stage (he placed some friends in the audience to give stage-managed applause, a cynical but canny move).
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” — Martha Graham
The great American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham was called the "Picasso of dance," and knew the value of persistence. Her words about the necessity of practice for perfecting any performance, from dancing to speaking, are worth noting.
On reiterating your point:
“If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.” - Winston Churchill
The history of public speaking would be a plain one without Churchill, the British Prime Minister who was renowned for his inspiring oratory and witty asides. He famously wrote his speeches in bed, and noted that his impromptu speeches took the longest to plan.
On emotional appeal:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou's point reaches from literature to life to speeches very easily: her pinpointing of the emotional core as the most essential part of your effort is an essential part of making a moving speech.
On being careful:
“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
American poet and author Holmes wrote widely on many topics, from medicine to novels, but he was also a famously brilliant lecturer and teacher. During his time at Harvard Medical School, a student recalled that his entrance into the lecture hall was "greeted by a might shout and stamp of applause. Then silence, and there begins a charming hour which... brightens to the tired listener the details for difficult though interesting study." These lectures, though they seemed off the cuff, were carefully prepared, a point Holmes always emphasised.
On keeping to the point:
"Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact — from calling on us to look through a heap of millet-seed in order to be sure that there is no pearl in it." — George Eliot
Wickedly sarcastic British author Eliot, who wrote Middlemarch, had no patience for pomposity, and probably encountered a lot of it, considering she lived in Victorian England. Her praise of anybody who doesn't drag their listeners through pointless oratory should be kept in mind by any speaker worrying they're keeping things a bit too short.
On pushing yourself:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Roosevelt, seen above speaking at the United Nations, was an unusual First Lady: an outspoken activist for civil rights, she held a record 348 press conferences during her husband's 12 years in office to discuss her own ideas and became the head of the UN's Commission On Human Rights. Astonishingly, she was by nature a quiet woman, terrified of public speaking, and it was with that fear in mind that she gave this famous and inspirational quote.
"The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid." — Lady Bird Johnson
Another First Lady with a very public role, Lady Bird Johnson did the first ever solo whistle stop tour of any First Lady in 1964, traveling the country promoting the Civil Rights Act. She was also a naturally quiet woman, but felt sufficiently strongly about her causes that she let her passion overtake her fear.
On getting out and trying:
"A book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be "half scared to death." There are a great many "wet less" bathing suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way.” — Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie's famous book and courses on public speaking have influenced the way that many leaders think about confidence, expression and speech-giving. The most pointed bit of advice he gave, however, was that you can read tips as much as you like, but the best way to learn is to plunge right in.
Images: Wikimedia Commons/Getty.