Train Like An Athlete, Speak Like A Pro

Written by Marisol Dahl

In August during the Speak Like A Pro virtual conference, I was struck by something Pamela Slim said in her interview:

“Presenting is a full-contact sport.”


You can know all the rules to the game, but that doesn’t mean you are going to get out there and hit a home run. Giving a speech, much like playing a sport, involves preparation, a sound body, a strong mind, limber muscles, and a full playbook.

You have to exercise, train, and practice.

But as with any athlete or speaking pro out there, nerves can really trip us up and affect our performance. In Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life., Gary Genard plays Coach Joe Girardi to our Derek Jeter. This get-up-out-of-your-seat book is all about going on the offensive and getting to the bottom of your speaking fears. Genard certainly knows how to approach speaking with an athlete’s mindset.

The Athlete’s Mindset

  1. Audience members are your fans, not your competitors.

“Most nervousness isn’t visible to others because it’s internal. And if people do see you’re nervous, they’ll most likely have the normal reaction, which is to sympathize with you. Since audience members feel good when you’re succeeding and embarrassed when you’re failing, they’re actually on your side and want you to do well.”

  1. There is no “I” in “team.” Don’t hog the ball.

Genard delivers some tough love when he calls out speech anxiety and self-consciousness for what they truly are—narcissism.

“Hey, what makes you think this audience is here because of you? They’re contributing their valuable time attending this event because they hope to get something out of it. Instead of being concerned about your own feelings, ask yourself if you’re meeting your audience’s needs.”

  1. Hold the dumbbells, focus on your voice.

“Keep in mind that the voice is inherently physical. That fact may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re preoccupied with the content of a presentation or consumed by performance anxiety.

Because your voice is physical, it is intimately connected to energy and relaxation, as well as tension and stress. That means that the pressures of a too-hectic lifestyle or work schedule will emerge in one form or another in your vocal expression. Anything you can do to relieve those pressures—yoga, sports, and relaxation exercises—will pay off in a more fluid and powerful vocal instrument.”

  1. Keep your eye on the prize.

“Your fear of public speaking and the measure of your success as a speaker are entirely separate matters. It’s easy to confuse these two issues: thinking that just because you were nervous, your presentation had to have been a failure.

Because speaking anxiety makes you so uncomfortable, it sometimes becomes an all-consuming state of mind. That makes it easy for you to lose sight of a critically important fact: Your goal is not to speak without anxiety it is to positively influence your audience.”

Become an MVP and Train With the Pros

How to Speak Like A Pro: Practical Tips for Your Confidence, Deliver and Impact: On October 27, Jenny will be leading a live workshop at Holstee’s new Learning Lab in Brooklyn, NY. Come connect with creatives, entrepreneurs, and others who want to master the skills of public speaking.

Heroic Public Speaking: Michael Port, One of my biggest influences in business and public speaking, will be leading a four-month interactive virtual program starting October 27. The class will culminate in a live workshop for all participants in February. Click here for details and to get Michael's free Heroic Public Speaking Guide To World Saving Speeches.

Can’t make it? You can still learn how to Speak Like A Pro from home.

Book Giveaway

We’re excited to give away a copy of Fearless Speaking by Gary Genard to one lucky Life After College reader. To enter, answer the following question in the comments by Monday, October 13:

Comment to Be Entered to Win: What do you do to beat public speaking anxiety?

About Marisol Dahl

Marisol is currently a Sociology and Education Studies major at Yale University. A longtime New Yorker, she is interested in pursuing a career in education and child advocacy. Marisol started her blog in 2011 as a way to document her college years and beyond. When not running around campus and catching up with her school reading, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading dystopian fiction and volunteering in her community. She can be reached on Twitter at @marisoldahl.

How to Conquer Your Fear Of Public Speaking

We humans can be pretty funny, can’t we? Any species would have to have a sense of humor to evolve the way we did. Because could you actually guess that our number one fear is public speaking? In fact, surveys show that we fear it more than death. And yet public speaking and proper communication skills might just be the most important thing we will learn on this planet.

We fear the very thing that will bring us success. I hate to say it, but I am one of the 75% of people in this world who would rather eat a fistful of worms than get up on stage.

But I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t want my speaking anxiety to keep me from standing up in front of the classroom to share my research, or from asking a question as an audience member, or from walking into a room and confidently introducing myself.

No fear should ever keep us from sharing our ideas and opinions.

And this is why I am so so excited for the Speak Like A Pro virtual conference. Five days with some of the best speakers and thought leaders out there. I can’t wait to hear all their tips on how to calm nerves, practice like a pro, connect with the audience, and still be authentic and, well, real.

I was so eager I decided to do a little interviewing myself with the Life After College crew.

The Life After College Team on how to Speak Like A Pro

Melissa, tell us about your process for structuring and organizing speeches:

"The first thing I do when structuring my speeches is to create a bullet list of the three or four key takeaway items I want the audience to leave with. Whether it's a shift in mindset, new knowledge points, or a big idea - I start with these points as the basis of the talk/or a loose outline.

From there, I fill in the content with a story or anecdote to ensure that the talk is engaging and relatable, and end with placing the transitions, additional explanations and stage actions."

Melissa Anzman

Davis, what is the most important thing you do to practice for a presentation?

"The first time I was asked to give a speech was in 3rd grade for Black History month. I was assigned the role of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,  a great honor. I researched everything I could and even read his MSN Encarta entry (this was before Wikipedia). Up until the day I was suppose to give my report in front of my class, I had done everything except practice. I thought the words would naturally come out of my mouth; after all Dr. King gave great impromptu speeches and even Ms. Britton, my 3rd grade teacher, did not have a script when she taught us.

In short, when it was my time to speak, I had no lines memorized, I didn’t even have a script; I froze, didn’t say a word, and had to be escorted back to my seat. I received an F on the assignment.

That was 12 years ago and since, I have won multiple state public speaking competitions, been a finalist in multiple national competitions, and delivered multiple key notes. My secret? Making time to practice. Everyone from Tony Robbins to my mentor Susan Cain, who have both built careers public speaking, practice their speeches daily, what excuse do I have not to?"

Davis Nguyen

Rebecca, how do you ensure you are connecting with your audience?

When I'm giving a talk, I make sure to actively read my audience throughout: is anyone nodding along, smiling at my ridiculous jokes, glaring, sleeping, running for the exit? This audience read is only worth as much as I'm willing to act on that read and change course, though - and that's the scary part.

So I've worked to get comfortable with being somewhat spontaneous. When I'm working with slides it's hard or impossible to fully alter my path, of course, but what I say with each slide often varies depending on what's happening in front of me. I find that the best way to lose an audience is to have a speech prepared and to hold to it stubbornly, come dirty looks or confused glances.

I'm also a big believer in the use of self-effacing humor. The expert advice on speaking probably holds something like, "act confident and your audience will feel at ease" but I find that personally, the more uncoordinated and self-conscious I act, the more people are right there with me. That's because, at heart, I am uncoordinated and self-conscious.

I find that it's all about being comfortable with vulnerability - both my own and that of the people listening to me. When I'm willing to good-naturedly point out my faults - without getting anywhere near self-pity, of course - and perhaps run into a podium or chair while I talk, all the better for the likeability factor, and for my audience's willingness to open up to me in return.

But this last point brings up the most important matter of all: being self-effacing and appearing physically clumsy is my shtick. It's what works for me. If someone else tried it, it might be a total disaster, just as it's a total disaster when I attempt to appear perfectly polished and pulled together, which I've tried more often than I care to admit.

It's like a story a colleague recently told me: days before she had a big speech, her partner encouraged her to "be inspiring - like Obama!" My reserved, thoughtful colleague thought the 180-degree turn from her usual approach might be just what she needed to make her audience enthralled. Long story short, my colleague is no Obama, and the more she tried, the worse the talk went. Her partner was actually in the back of the room covering her eyes by the end.

Above all else, audiences sense authenticity. So being who I truly am - and sizing up the audience as I go to make sure my authentic self is connecting - are the ways I keep an audience in their seats...and their minds in the room, too!"

Rebecca Fraser-Thill

Jenny, do you ever get nervous before a speech? How do you deal with those last-minute anxieties?

"I almost always get hit with a huge wave of nerves before delivering a speech, whether I'm in front of 50 people or 500; but the most helpful thing for me to remember is that it is a wave, not permanent state or a reason to panic.

If I take three deep breaths, pace a little bit (where no one can see me), and open and close my fists a few times, I can usually work out the extra adrenaline in my body before going on stage. Even if I still have a pounding heart when I first start, it will often calm itself down after a few minutes.

Public speaking understandably engages our fight-or-flight response. As author Scott Berkun put it in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker:

  • We are an animal standing alone on an open plane
  • With no weapons and nowhere to hide
  • With dozens (if not hundreds of eyeballs staring at us)

Evolutionarily speaking, this is a scenario in which we were surely about to die! So our bodies produce extra adrenaline to help us high-tail it out of there.

The key when public speaking is to give this adrenaline something to do, so that it doesn't express itself in a shaky voice (or if you're like me, a whole shaky leg). From a post I did earlier this year on Michael Bay's CES freak-out, here are 5 Tips for Handling an In-the-Moment Flood of Nerves:

  1. First and foremost, you must breathe. This is critical. Take a few moments just to collect yourself and breathe. Take in a nice big inahle of air. The audience will hardly notice and it will start to reactivate your relaxation response, letting your brain and body know they are safe.
  2. Second, if you’re in a Bay or Blake Situation (hah) try to laugh! Crack a joke. Which brings me to number 3:
  3. BE YOURSELF! Nobody expects you to be perfect, especially when they can clearly see that things are going haywire.
  4. Acknowledge the issue. Bay did a good job of saying, “The type is all off . . . sorry, I’ll just wing it.” Okay, great! Now breathe and ad lib. Take an improv class if you want to get more comfortable with this.
  5. KEEP GOING! This is critical! The show must go on! Don’t make a fight-or-flight response worse with the internal monologue of, “Well now you’re really fucking it up.” Or, “Screw those tech guys — this should not be happening! My reputation is ruined!” Acknowledge the snafu, but KEEP. GOING. An American Psychological Association study even recently found that Getting Excited Helps with Performance Anxiety More Than Trying to Calm Down. The worst thing you can do is start freaking out about freaking out.

People will love you more for keeping strong and (awkwardly) carrying on.

Jenny Blake

Paul, what inspired you to get into the business of public speaking?

"There is no other work that makes me feel more alive than up on stage doing my best to bring an audience to life. Because as a public speaker I feel like I'm part performer, artist, advocate, comedian, entertainer, teacher, and story-teller -- changing my role from one sentence to the next.

Public speaking requires me not only to fully be myself, but to be more than I thought I was capable of. It requires me to be fully present as I strive to present something that might change someone's life from that moment on."

Paul Angone

More About Speak Like a Pro


The Speak Like A Pro conference is going on now through Friday, August 29.

Conquer your fear and get your free ticket here!

Speak Like a Pro: Free Virtual Conference

Written by Jenny Blake Jenny Blake — Speak Like a Pro Conference

Public speaking doesn’t have to be a fate worse than death (nor does it have to give you hives, as often used to happen to me). That’s why I set out to find what the top experts in storytelling, body language and behavior change had to say on the subject.

Earlier this year I recorded 25 interviews with experts and thought-leaders for a virtual conference on how to Speak Like a Pro. It was an honor to connect with some of the authors and speakers I most admire; we talked about how to engage audiences, practice effectively, and connect with an audience of any size.

By the end of this conference, you'll learn: 

  • How to structure a presentation effectively to enact positive behavior change
  • The brain science behind how to practice your delivery to nail your content without notes
  • Physiological tips for calming nerves on the big day
  • Pointers for delivering a speech in an engaging, concise manner
  • How to build a strong reputation and profitable business as a professional speaker

Here’s a 3-minute video overview:

Sign-Up and Share

Reserve your free ticket here!

I’d love your help spreading the word too . . . here are a few click-to-tweets if you’re willing :)

[Tweet ThisPublic speaking doesn’t have to be a fate worse than death—free virtual conference on Speaking Like a Pro: http://bit.ly/SpeakLikeAProConf

[Tweet This] 25 top speakers weigh in on calming nerves, practicing effectively, and influencing an audience of any size: http://bit.ly/SpeakLikeAProConf

[Tweet This] Want to learn how to Speak Like a Pro? @jenny_blake interviews 25 experts for a free virtual conference in August: http://bit.ly/SpeakLikeAProConf

[Tweet ThisSpeak Like a Pro virtual conference with @Jenny_Blake starts Aug. 25! Get your free ticket here: http://bit.ly/SpeakLikeAProConf

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career StrategistJenny Blake is the bestselling author of Life After College, a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business.

Today you can find her here on this blog (in it's seventh year!) and at JennyBlake.me, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

Make Sh*t Happen: Fall Enrollment Now Open! + Free Crash Course Webinar Next Week

Jenny - 5-Minute Speech at WDS WDS Audience (click to enlarge)

WDS group of 13 who told stories (click to enlarge)

I completed a major sweaty-palms-heart-leaping-outta-my-chest life-checklist item this past weekend in Portland, Oregon: I was one of 13 WDS attendees chosen to share our story with the entire conference audience -- an auditorium of 1,000 people!

I wanted to make the most of my five minutes, so I treated it like a mini-keynote. Nicole and I spent our final moments backstage pacing, rehearsing to ourselves, reassuring each other, and saying "FEEEEL this!" as we placed our hands on each others' thumping hearts. I reminded her of my go-to public speaking tips: deep yoga breaths and clenched fists to give the adrenaline something to do.

I'm grateful and humbled to report that the speech delivered laughs and tears (and one impassioned f-bomb) -- a definite success! And a reminder to keep doing things that scare the sh*t outta us :)

Speaking of which . . .

Despite all of my soul-searching and MIA-ness of late, I've realized one very important thing during this past week as I got ready to open up the next round of the Make Sh*t Happen course:

Making Sh*t Happen is about doing things in an authentic way that resonates with the very core of you are -- not who society or anyone else wants you to be. You can either Make Sh*t Happen for your ego and for others -- as I did for many, many years -- or you can Make Sh*t Happen for YOU.

While it's true that I'm a little uncertain about the direction of my overall business beyond the Life After College "brand", I know that I've never felt more alive. I'm loving the process of figuring it out, one small step at a time.

The Make Sh*t Happen course is about taking a stand and pursuing the goal that whispers to you in quiet moments.

It is about pursuing that ONE thing you are tip-toeing around, that one thing that would most bring you alive to pursue -- for the very process itself. It’s about acknowledging your fears and moving forward not just in spite of them, but because of them. Because the bigger your fears, the bigger and more meaningful the growth opportunity.

On that note, I am thrilled to open the course doors for enrollment this week, with the next round of Make Sh*t Happen kicking off in August! I could not be more excited to walk this path right alongside those of you who are ready for it.

Save the Date: Free MSH Crash Course Webinar

If you read no further: note that I’m hosting a free Make Sh*t Happen “Crash Course” webinar on Tuesday, July 17 at 3:30pm ET for those of you who would like the CliffsNotes version of the 8-steps to Making Sh*t Happen and creating a snowball of success for any big undertaking. At the very end I will answer any questions you might have about the program or my business -- nothing is off limits!

Register here -- the webinar will be recorded if you can't make it (you'll need to enroll to receive the recording), though I'd love to hang with you live in the chat if you can swing it :)

MSH Enrollment: Course Basics

After running this course twice, I can undoubtedly say that it works if you're willing to put in the time and effort. Our 60+ alumni have started businesses, built blogs, gotten knee-deep in writing books, quit their jobs, and one even lost 60 pounds! Beyond all the surface-level stats, we've created an incredible community that loves, supports and encourages each other at every step.

  • You'll receive 10 weeks of guided content: weekly videos, 5 live group Q&A calls with me, 100+ pages of reading material, reflection exercises, and group discussion prompts. You will also be assigned to a triad of three people to help you reflect on your progress and hold you accountable week-by-week.
  • There are only 50 spots open, available on a first-come first-serve basis. I'm deliberately keeping the class small so that we can create a tight-knit, awesome community.
  • The course starts the first week of August and will complete in September. Enrollment ends on Sunday, July 29 or once the 50 spots are taken (whichever comes first).
  • The first 10 people to enroll will receive a private 30-minute 1:1 coaching session with me (this alone would normally cost $250). I am committed to your success, and know how powerful just one pivotal conversation can be!
  • Finally, as an MSH course participant, you'll recieve lifetime access to the MSH Alumni group on Facebook, and will have the opportunity to audit the class for free during any future sessions.

Read more about the program here or if it's already calling your name, grab a spot before the class fills up! You can also review the Frequently Asked Questions here

Not sure if the course is for you?

Check out what past participants had to say on the MSH website. From our most recent class, I was particularly touched by C.J's story -- perhaps you can relate:

"I used to ignore how much I wanted to be a writer and musician. I didn't even realize that hiding my passion, as though I was ashamed of it, would make me feel so inauthentic. And that translated to every situation even slightly outside my comfort zone where'd I feel inferior to the people around me.

It was hard to tell my goal to the group and even harder to stick it on the wall and make it visible. The first weeks helped me identify why my goal was important and what exactly I wanted it to look like. And it stopped feeling like a hobby. It's a difficult moment when you acknowledge a huge part of yourself that has been left tucked in a box in the back of the closet, and you have to forgive yourself for wasted years. 

My goal is particularly ambitious and I knew I wouldn't get it in 8 weeks. But even in the first week I started to feel lighter. I had people at work read my writing. I talked about songwriting...I welcomed that lost part of myself as the best part of who I am. Fast forward 8 weeks and I feel like the new model of myself. 

I didn't realize how inauthentic I felt about my life and who I was until I started to really embrace who I was and where I wanted to be. I have more confidence in unrelated situations like work, more alpha wolf than fleeing rabbit. I introduce myself as a writer first to strangers, something I'd never done and would have felt stupid doing. The course has done more than just give me tools for accomplishing my goal or being the backbone of support to get me closer. It helped me rediscover the magic about who I am. And celebrate my victories when my usual response would be to criticize the parts I missed. Taking action was a big part but I don't know how I would have made the mental shifts without the course. 

Being accountable to someone other than me was a big help. Checking off each activity and posting responses helped me see I was doing the work, but also that I wasn't alone in having a big goal and trying to achieve it. Reading how other people were doing and getting inspired by their accomplishments was a huge booster in motivating myself and seeing how other people drop kick the obstacles in their way. It was a lot easier for me to stumble in places because I knew I wasn't alone and I knew there were people around the world who had stumbled as well.

In just two months I feel like I've gone from being a little girl who didn't think anyone would listen to a woman who can say "I know what I'm talking about."  

—CJ, MSH Alumni - January 2012

I'm so proud of C.J.

It takes tremendous courage to take an honest look at where you might be holding yourself back and proceed anyway.

This course reminds me that we are all beautiful in our imperfection; that our fears are shared AND surmountable, that our support networks are there to hold us up when our light dims, and that our successes -- big and small -- are absolutely worth celebrating.