Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears

The author working his laptop while presenting at a Social Media for Business seminar, wearing a  Jerry Garcia print tie.

The author presenting at a Social Media for Business seminar. And, yes, that is a Jerry Garcia print tie he is wearing. (Photo credit: Nancy-jo Manney.)

The No. 1 fear in the United States is public speaking. No. 2 is death.  As comedian Jerry Seinfeld noted, “This means for an average American, if you have to be at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”

We’ve all heard of comedians who died on stage. Which is fine, because then someone else has to deliver the eulogy. But today I’m going to share with you three keys to successful public speaking so you can give a eulogy to your public speaking fears and never again die on stage.

The three keys are:

  • The art of storytelling
  • It’s really NOT about you
  • Practice, practice, practice

But first, let me tell you something about myself. I’m an entrepreneur who believes in dressing the part, so most days I wear a tie. And I’m known for it. I show up at meetings and people ask, “Did you dress up just for us?” Well, yes, in fact, I did. It’s part of my brand.

And I have a brand of tie I like. Most of my ties were designed by Jerry Garcia. Most of you probably know Jerry Garcia as the drug-addicted front man and lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead. Unless you’re a Deadhead, however, you probably don’t know that he started his professional career playing banjo in a jug band and was quite a visual artist as well.

Now, except for a video he shot with mandolinist David Grisman, Garcia probably hadn’t worn a tie since his childhood school days. But he designed and sold ties so old hippies who sold out to the business world like me could play the part and still wear a bit of the revolution.

Did you notice? I just told you a story about my tie. Yeah, it had a point about me being an undercover revolutionary, but it was still a story about my tie. What are you wearing that you could weave into a story? Earrings given to you by your mother or child at the reunion? A shirt you bought at an out-of-town convention because when you got there, you discovered you had forgotten to pack dress shirts? A spring jacket you pulled out of the closet three times last month only to discover winter had not yet passed? The point is, you can weave a story about just about anything.

And why stories? For two reasons.

One, people relate to stories much more than they do numbers or a recitation of facts. We’re humans. We’ve been telling stories around the fire since we could first utter words. We relate to the storyteller and are much more likely to remember what the speaker said and to comprehend it as well. But here’s the kicker for you as someone trying to eulogize their fears: Stories are easy to remember for the speaker too.

When I first started on the road to public speaking, I tried to memorize my speeches. I failed completely. My brain would freeze on stage. I was dying up there. My friend and mentor Paul White mentioned one day that he, too, tried memorization and it didn’t work for him either. So then he tried just telling stories, and he could do that. So I tried telling stories too. And it worked.

Sheryl Roush taught me the second point I want to relate to you today. Sheryl is an international speaker who gives public speaking workshops around the world. I’ve attended two so far and look forward to attending my third. At the end of her workshops, Sheryl flits around the room asking for golden nuggets, the one thing you took away from the workshop that you are going to implement in your public speaking.

At the last workshop I attended, my golden nugget takeaway was: It’s not about you, the speaker. It’s about the audience.

That is powerful. So powerful that I repeat it to myself before I get up to speak. It’s about you, not me. The spotlight is on you. Not me. You’re here to learn something. Or to be entertained. And I can give that to you. I want to give that to you. Because I’m a giver. And nothing makes me feel better than to give to people.

As humans, we’re wired that way, to give. It’s how we’ve developed and survived. Without cooperation, without caring for our children and our elderly, without making sure that all made it through the winter, we would have died out as a species long ago. Scientists have found centers in the brain that are stimulated when we give. It literally makes us feel good to help others. So if you put yourself in the mindset – without getting haughty about it – that you’re up there to give to your audience, the butterflies might not go away, but they will fly in formation.

And how do butterflies fly in formation to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.

And for practicing opportunities, I know of no better organization than Toastmasters. For 15 years I worked on Capitol Hill and wrote speeches for politicians, but I did not give them myself because I was terrified of speaking in front of audiences. Then I joined Toastmasters. Now I grab every speaking opportunity I can. Toastmasters offers a nurturing atmosphere to practice the craft of public speaking. You receive noncritical feedback from your fellow speakers on what you have done well and ways you can improve. I suggest joining a club that meets at least twice a month. My home club meets every week. That gives me ample opportunities to practice, practice, practice.

I needed it. As I mentioned before, my brain froze during the first few speeches I gave. I was dying on stage. But I received wonderful feedback and support and found a way to make it work for me.

And it’s relatively inexpensive. Dues are $36 every six months, although some clubs tack on a few extra dollars for club dues. Still, in most cases, for less than $100 a year, you can get some of the best public speaking training available.

And that’s how to give a eulogy to your public speaking fears. Tell stories. Give to your audience. And practice, practice, practice. See you at the funeral.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lena on July 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Excellent and timely for me. Perfect advice.

    Sent from my iPhone




  2. i enttered a reply but it did not take – that you could greatly upgrade the GUTS Gazette by posting there from time to time…..



  3. […] Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears […]



  4. […] Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears […]



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