How Can I Survive...Public Speaking?

Illustration by Kevin Whipple

“I’m so nervous about an upcoming speech that I haven’t even started to write it. What are some tips that will help me wow the crowd and feel prepared?”  

— Karli Waldrep, a Choices Teen Adviser and high school sophomore in Mahomet, IL


“Practice plenty, speak slowly, and breathe often.”

Whether she’s in front of Instagram’s followers, CEOs, or world leaders at the UN Foundation, Berna Anat has learned that a little preparation and organization go far. “The most memorable speeches or presentations hammer home one point or idea over and over,” says Berna. Here’s her typical routine:

A WEEK OUT: Study your material!

Pick a main idea (“Abe Lincoln was one smart dude!”), then use the rest of the talk to support it. If you get lost, you can always go back to that key message. 

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Practice, practice, practice.

Use notecards that outline your points, but don’t memorize your speech verbatim. If there’s a “perfect” version in your head, you’re more likely to panic if you go off-script. 

THE MORNING OF: Get moving!

No, really, says Berna, who has been known to dance it out before speaking. Exercise relieves stress and sends oxygen to your brain so you can think faster on the spot. 

GO TIME: Drink some water and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.

Anxiety can create cotton mouth, so take a swig from your water bottle (and a few deep breaths!) before approaching the podium. As you start to talk, remember this formula: Make one point, take one breath—in and out!

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