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If you are afraid of public speaking, read this
October 17, 2016

Have you ever had to give a speech on behalf of something that seemed so important it was bigger than yourself? It might have felt terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be, according to Allison Shapira, who teaches public speaking and presentation skills in Washington.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter how old you are. And it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your career. Every single one of us needs public speaking,” she says.

Shapira helps people who are getting ready for a formal address at a lectern or on a stage and also those who just need to speak to a small meeting attended by co-workers.

Before your speech, Shapira says, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my goal?
  • Why me?
Allison Shapira instructs students in public speaking. (State Dept./Tim Brown)
Allison Shapira instructs students in public speaking. (State Dept./Tim Brown)

She says your goal will drive your message, and knowing your audience helps you understand what will make sense to them and how they like to receive information. Give yourself room to bring in your own enthusiasm and experience. Include a story or anecdote that will make the speech authentic.

To organize the speech, define its one main message. “The more focused you are in your message, the more powerful you are going to be,” Shapira says. Write down the main points, and then rearrange them into a logical structure. Write out the opening and closing sentences.

They matter, she says, because the opening sentence captures attention, while the last drives home the message.

Given audience attention spans, “a short, concise speech is more powerful,” she said. You can actually make a strong point in less than two minutes.

Shapira advises that you practice the speech out loud, at least a week before if possible, and record it. “The more you practice, then the more it becomes natural to you,” she said.

When delivering the speech, she said there are three effective nonverbal techniques to keep in mind:

  • Eye contact with the audience.
  • Body language: good posture; facial expressions and hand motions to match your words.
  • Expressive vocal tone.


“Nobody wants you to give a perfect, flawless speech,” Shapira says. “It’s more about connecting with people on an authentic, personal level.”