The Shy Person’s Guide to Public Speaking
Find small ways to speak in public in your everyday life
This story is part of How to Get Better at Public Speaking, the Forge guide to talking in front of a crowd.
Staring at the clock, I did the math. If the classmate standing in front of the room would just keep speaking beyond his 10-minute time limit, I wouldn’t have to give my presentation in front of my 11th-grade history class. He was already at the eight-minute mark. Come on, man, I pleaded in my head, my palms sweating. Don’t stop talking.
I watched the seconds hand make another round. Nine minutes. That’s it, buddy. Keep going.
10 minutes. Yes!
11 minutes, 12 minutes. Thank God. I’m free.
I took a deep breath of relief when I suddenly heard the voice of my teacher, Mr. C: “Thompson. You’re up. Let’s squeeze this in.” I froze.
I was an extremely shy kid with a severe speech impediment, and that day, my stutter fired out like a machine gun. The entire class was forced to stay after school because it took me 18 minutes to finish my 10-minute talk. I was mortified.
If you had told me at that moment that I would one day become a communication coach who would be invited to teach presentation skills to politicians and business leaders, I wouldn’t have probably wouldn’t have liked you very much.
People sometimes ask how I overcame my fear of public speaking, wanting to know if there’s a workshop they can sign up for or trick they can use when they’re up on stage, feeling like they might vomit. What I tell them is this: I gained my confidence by carving out ways for myself to speak in public in every area of my life. I took small but manageable steps, in my own way and at my own pace.
I created this guide to help you, fellow shy person, become more comfortable speaking in public. It begins with the lowest-stakes strategies, and builds from there. Let’s dive in — whenever you’re ready.