Nervous man is afraid of public speech and sweating.

Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

Turning a Fear into a Career

by Carmie McCook

Recently, I was talking with the CEO of a technology company about helping him develop and deliver a keynote speech at an upcoming conference. He confessed that he hated giving speeches or presentations because the very thought of speaking in front of a group of people made his heartbeat accelerate, his mouth dry, and “…sweat like I’ve been in a steam room.” He added, “I don’t know that there is any help for me.” I assured him there was.

After reviewing what we would work on together and how the training and coaching would be organized, he said, “This sounds really good. What got you into a career as a public speaking coach?”

My answer surprised him. “My fear of public speaking.”

I realized in my twenties that the ability to communicate ideas and information confidently, clearly, and engagingly to others is essential in any job. To have the future life I envisioned, I had to overcome the gripping fear that consumed me whenever I had to share my thoughts in front of a group of people in professional settings. Why was I like this? I was an otherwise very outgoing person, so what was causing this fear? That’s when I began doing research.

Over the years, I have researched and learned a lot about glossophobia – the fancy word for fear of public speaking. The cause of speech anxiety is complex and overcoming it requires training, coaching, and counseling on multiple factors. But understanding the science behind that fear is the first step in helping you manage it.

Sudden feelings of anxiety before giving a speech or presentation are common. For some, it is an abrupt rush of nervousness that comes just before going on stage. For others, the dread starts building from the moment you know you have to give a presentation. The anxiety can be so intense it causes shallow breathing, sweating, an inability to think clearly, and a terrifying sense of panic. Either scenario is called fear of public speaking. But I think that is a misnomer.

No one really has a fear of public speaking. What people do have is a fear of failure — a fear of not being perfect in the eyes of others. The fear of being ridiculed, seen as incompetent or judged as an imposter.

If you can relate to this, keep reading! There is good news: All of these fears are self-imposed. And self-imposed fears can be controlled and, with coaching, can be overcome. I’m not a neuroscientist, but here’s a quick science lesson to help you understand what is happening.

The amygdala is the part of your brain that reacts when you sense potential physical danger. When something happens that you perceive as threatening, like a car headed straight for you, a grease fire in your kitchen, an avalanche on a ski slope, etc., the amygdala responds, sending signals to the hypothalamus, releasing chemicals that trigger an adrenaline rush and fight or flight response to protect you. Those chemicals make your heartbeat and breathing accelerate, your mind starts racing, and blood rushes to your head because you fear physical danger.

But the same danger signal is sent when you have to give a presentation and think things like, “Oh no! This is a big crowd! Everyone will be judging me! What if I forget something important? What if I go blank and embarrass myself! I don’t want to do this!” The amygdala believes whatever you tell it. Even though the threat is imagined, and there is no actual physical danger, it still triggers heart-pounding, shallow breathing, sudden brain fog, and other physical and emotional responses that say, run for your life!

The more negative your mindset gets about public speaking, the larger and more hypersensitive your amygdala gets. It continues to send those intimidating, false alarms, feeding anxiety because of your imagined, self-imposed “what if” fears.

But, just as the amygdala believes the scary stuff you tell it, it believes the comforting stuff you tell it too! The first step in overcoming speech anxiety is to retrain your brain. Stop thinking and saying negative “self-talk.”

We believe what we continually tell ourselves, so when you have to give a presentation or speech, tell yourself only positive things. Envision success! The moment a negative thought starts to creep in, immediately change it to positive language. Say, “I can do this! I’ve got a great presentation with good information. This is going to go well! I’m calm, and the audience will enjoy my presentation. I’ve got this!”

Research shows that as you retrain your mindset, your amygdala literally shrinks in size, reducing panic and allowing your confidence to grow. Speaking before an audience of one or 1000 will become more comfortable. Then one day, as you are enjoying applause after giving a fantastic presentation, you’ll smile and think, “Wow! It’s hard to believe that this used to freak me out!”

Carmie McCook is the founder and President of Carmie McCook & Associates, an executive communications training and coaching firm based in Washington, DC, serving clients globally

Carmie McCook Podcast Guest

Overcoming Your Public Speaking Anxiety – My Podcast with Amy Rosenberg

I was a podcast guest about a week ago with Amy Weinhouse Rosenberg at Veracity, a public relations agency in Portland Oregon, and they released the recording last night.  I had a great time talking with Amy, and I hope you’ll listen to the podcast below, as I give tips for easing your on-stage nerves, and share how I built my own confidence over the years.

Charlie and AJ Pool

My Inspirational Clients: Kids are Caregivers Too

One of the best part of my job is the great people I have the pleasure and often the honor, to work with. So was the case a few weeks ago when Sara Pool, the terrific mother of two amazing teenage sons, contacted me.

Charlie and AJ Pool

Charlie and AJ Pool, speaking at an Alzheimer’s fundraiser

Sara explained that her boys, Charlie, 17 and AJ, 15, had been invited to speak in Boca Raton, Florida at a large Alzheimer’s fundraiser on January 31. This was a big deal! The boys already had their speech written, and Sara asked if I could help them with their “on stage” presence.

But this post isn’t about what I did for Charlie and AJ. It’s about what they did for me. At ages 9 and 11, Charlie and AJ’s grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, came to live with them. And, at ages 9 and 11, their lives change forever. At ages 9 and 11, Charlie and AJ, along with their parents, also became caregivers for their grandmother.

As the boys and I worked together rehearsing their speech for the Alzheimer’s fundraiser, I learned about the three years of their life with their grandmother before she passed away. It was a time filled with unpredictable upsets, heartbreak, frustration, and stress. But, most of all, I heard about the extraordinary love and patience provided by two young boys.

Through Charlie and AJ, I learned there are more than 1.4 million kids in the United States who live with and help provide daily care for household members with a physical or mental disability. Their lives are impacted far beyond what most people realize.

Because of Charlie and AJ’s experience as caregivers, their family has launched Kids are Caregivers Too  in association with The American Association of Caregiving Youth.

The purpose of their website is to advocate awareness, recognition, and support for the unique impact and needs of this often-overlooked population of young caregivers.

To hear and see Charlie and AJ tell their story at the Alzheimers’ fundraiser on January 31, watch the video here . I’m sure you will be as impressed and moved by these young men as much as I have been.

Carmie and attendees in a public speaking class

Five Tips for Persuading Your Company to Invest in Soft Skills Training

Professional Presentation Skills Improve Bottom lines

I recently got a call from the sales manager for a large technology company based in Chicago. He was seeking information about our professional presentation training for his company’s key account executives based in four major cities: Montreal, New York, Washington DC, and Atlanta. The headcount was for 25 people.

After a detailed discussion about his needs and goals for the training, I shared an overview of my recommendations for a customized training approach that I was confident would best meet his objectives. He was delighted and said, “This is perfect! It is exactly what we need.” Then he added, “Now, I need your help for something else. I need you to help me make a business case to present to my VP of Training and Development. He thinks the only training account managers need is product training.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard similar frustrations from other business professionals. For many, getting their company to pay for soft skills training, such as public speaking and B2B presentation skills, is more difficult than getting approval for “hard skills” training that focuses directly on the product or services your company sells.

Of course, strong knowledge of your company’s products and services is essential for salespeople. But, The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and other respected business publications cite numerous studies showing that buyers are ultimately influenced more by something less tangible than an encyclopedic overview of your company’s bells and whistles and pricing. The dominating deciding factor is how the presenter made them feel about your brand. That’s where soft skills training comes in.

Every individual in your organization who interacts with your customers is representing your brand. When a positive impression is made on customers, your brand benefits. When a weak or bad impression is made, your brands take a hit, both financially and reputationally.

A study conducted by Caliper, an employee assessment, and talent management company, found that 55% of people making a living in sales do not have the right soft skills to be successful. Ultimately, this leads to lost business opportunities for a company and higher turnover in the salesforce.

Investing in first-rate B2B presentation training can ensure your sales team deliver the most influential ROI: The Return on Impression.

Still, for some employees and training managers, convincing company decision-makers that investing in soft skills training contributes directly to their company’s bottom line success is a challenge. That’s where making a business case to invest in professional B2B presentation training comes in.

Last year we surveyed 50 corporate training managers who invested in business presentation training for their employees within the last three years. We asked, In a few words, what advice or information would you share with someone inquiring about the ROI for professional soft skills training, such as B2B presentation skill development, vs hard skills training, for an organization?

Below are highlights from their responses and insights into what motivated their company to put more money toward professional B2B presentation training and coaching for employees who interfaced with customers:

  1. Review examples of lost sales because of poor presentations: Don’t ignore reports of weak/boring/long/confusing presentations given by members of the organization. Listen to your employees. If they are asking for presentation training, invest in it.
  1. Realize that knowing the art of connecting with the customer has a stronger impact than product pitching to the customer: Sometimes, decision-makers responsible for training don’t know what they don’t know. Being a product or service expert isn’t enough to make a positive impression on a customer. B2B presentation skills training with a reputable instructor teaches salespeople how to develop and deliver a business presentation that connects with customers. Good instructors teach techniques for immediately capturing a customer’s attention and developing more engaging customer-centric content with relevant examples and stories. The result: Heighten buyer’s interest in your brand, more sales.
  1. Learn that buyers prefer a lot less talking and a lot more listening from salespeople: A study conducted by the Purchasing Management Association reports that customers don’t like long-winded data dumps. This isn’t earth-shaking news, yet, customers complain that most sales presentations are still too long, too detailed, and too boring. Customers are busy and impatient. They tune out quickly if the presenter doesn’t get to a value proposition fast. Learning how to create brief and informative presentations that are also engaging is an overlooked skill! Learning how to get to the point quickly and then have a conversation will have a much more positive outcome.
  1. Compare training fees against potential revenue from a sale: Compare the cost of the presentation training you recommend to the additional revenue your company could gain by winning a large contract – or lose by not getting a contract with a target customer. Professional training is typically a comparatively small investment that pays long-term, much larger dividends.
  1. Present the qualifications of the B2B presentation instructor: Not all presentation trainers are created equal. Research the credentials of the instructors you contact. Like any profession, the public speaking training field has great, mediocre, and plain out questionable instructors. Share the credentials of the firm you recommend. List some of their clients. Speak to actual client references and share their comments. Review the training agenda proposed by the trainer you recommend with your decision-maker.

Soft-skills training definitely contributes to a company’s success. Remember, customers don’t usually remember all the facts and data shared in a presentation, but they do remember the overriding impression the presenter made. They remember whether or not they felt a mutual connection with the speaker. Those are the feelings that determine the overall perception they have on your brand, either positive or negative. And, those feelings carry a lot of weight when buying decisions are finally made.


Carmie McCook Keynote Speaker at GCPA Empowering Women Conference

Like a lot of women, I have worked in several male-dominated industries during my career. I had some great experiences, but I also had many challenges along the way. So, I looked forward to speaking at the Gulf Coast Power Association’s Empowering Women Conference in Austin, Texas January 17th. I had the honor of kicking off the day as keynote speaker with a timely message about female empowerment: Strong public speaking skills play a critical role to being a more influential leader in any career and any industry.

“Influential Speakers are Influential Leaders.” — Carmie McCook 

The audience was predominately a cross-section of unique women: Females working in a variety of positions in the electric power industry. Attendees also included many female university students majoring in engineering and technology. But, women still only account for 15% of engineering jobs in the U.S. Unfortunately, many leave the field due to discrimination in pay and job promotion. In my talk, I stressed the importance of women using another kind of power that can make a big impact in the workplace: The power our voice has when we speak up.

During my presentation, I shared public speaking strategies to help women be more confident, engaging, and persuasive speakers. Whether presenting to customers, speaking at public hearings, or conducting staff meetings, learning how to use your voice effectively is a powerful tool for getting more recognition and being more influential on the job, regardless of your rank or position.

For more information on having Carmie speak at your conference or to discuss getting professional public speaking training and coaching, email [email protected].


Three "Don’t" Tips from a Public Speaking Coach

Three “Don’t” Tips to Remember for Any Speech or Presentation

I’ve been a public speaking trainer and coach for more than twenty-five years and have helped hundreds of clients overcome a variety of public speaking challenges. Often the task is not so much telling a client what to do, but more what not to do. Below are three major rules to keep in mind if you want to be perceived as a credible and confident communicator in any professional situation:

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Confused person

Simplifying complex message – Part 2

Revisiting the scenario from last week: Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was attempting to explain how mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus. The long, technical, response from the doctor sounded just like that: extremely technical as if he was presenting to a panel of medical students. If the show’s host had not forced him to break down his explanation, the audience would have been lost and tuned out within the first 10 seconds. This all boils down to two points: Know your audience and present “what is in it for them” upfront.

If you are the subject matter expert on a complex topic, your knowledge on that topic is appreciated. But, any time you are speaking to an audience outside of your peer group, it should never be assumed that the audience fully understands all of the terminology and insider acronyms that you would use with your colleagues. You want to present the information in a way that is relatable and relevant to your audience. In the case of the medical scientist explaining the transmission of the Zika virus to thousands of people across the U.S. on national radio, it would be safe to assume that the majority of the listeners had little knowledge on this topic. The solution: Keep it simple.

The best way to explain complex messages to a broad audience is to use relatable, everyday examples and analogies that the audience is familiar with. And, use simple language. Lose the acronyms and jargon. The audience already knows you are smart, this is not the time to impress them with your extensive vocabulary. This is the age of very short attention spans. You must capture the attention of your audience quickly, so get to the “what’s in it for them” information as soon as you can. That is why they are listening to you; they want to quickly know, from an expert, how your topic will impact their lives.

Next week I’ll discuss an approach on how to break things into essential concepts and how to communicate them efficiently during a media interview.

Confused woman

Simplifying complex messages

Recently, I was listening to a radio news program where a medical scientist was being interviewed on the Zika virus. The question was, How do mosquitoes transmit this virus? The three minute response from the doctor sounded like he was reading a PhD theses on the molecular biology of infectious diseases. The show’s host kept saying, “So, in simple terms, how would you explain this to our audience who aren’t scientist?”

This is a common scenario and often a huge challenge for subject matter experts speaking to reporters on complex topics. Whether explaining technology, astrophysics, medical breakthroughs, or other intricate processes, most experts feel they must explain every step of a process in order for everyone to “get it.” And, naturally, they lapse into using insider acronyms, words, and phrases that leave listeners looking like a deer in headlights.

When acting as a spokesperson or subject matter expert, it is important to remember your primary responsibility is to clarify and explain the topic. A media interview, broadcast or print, is not the time to break out the academic, engineering, scientific or technical vocabulary. This is the time to keep things simple and explain basic concepts.

But, how? When you are so immersed in a topic/subject/product/technology, it’s easy to skip the foundational elements, and jump right into the details. While you may think you will sound really smart and knowledgeable, you are  most likely confusing the heck out of the reporter and the audience – neither of which is ever a good thing! Over the next three weeks I’ll share a few quick, but highly effective, tips that will help you  simplify complex and multifaceted topics and specific key points: Here are today’s tips:

  1. Support statements with simple facts, charts, or visuals that are relatable to the general public.
  2. Use analogies and metaphors. Using comparisons to something that people do, see, or experience everyday  will help with comprehension.
  3. Tell a story. Storytelling that relates to the topic helps keep your audience engaged when the topic is technical and dry.

Next week I’ll share three more techniques that help provide clarity and eliminate confusion when the topic is complex.

I’ve been invited to speak!

In a few weeks I will be a panelist at Capitol Communicator’s annual conference in Washington D.C., Friday, June 10, 2016 at the NAHB Conference Center. I’ll be co-leading a session on an important topic: “Media Training: How to Simplify Complex Messages.”

Over the past month, I posted a series of articles about what to think about when you’ve been invited to speak: audience, logistics and format. Check, check, check. I’m ready to rock and roll.

The topic of simplifying complex messages is one that is near to my heart as a former TV reporter. When a reporter interviews someone on a complex topic, the one job of the interviewee is to clarify and explain, versus create more confusion. Getting too into the weeds on a topic is a common challenge with most subject matter experts, they are experts after all; so they have a tendency to bypass the basics and get into the grit of the topic. Not only have they confused the reporter even more, but they have also just lost the reporter’s attention.

That is why I am so excited to be participating in this workshop! I’m putting on my old reporters hat and providing PR professionals with techniques for streamlining intricate messages for their spokespeople.

The Capitol Communicator’s PR Summit is an annual, one-day conference for PR and communication professionals in the Mid-Atlantic Region. If you are in the area and would like to attend, you can register at It promises to be a day filled with useful insights and information for PR pros at any level.

The specific details of my session are as follows:

  • Workshop – Media Training: How to Simplify Complex Messages
  • When – Friday, June 10,2016,  2:45 – 3:30 p.m.
  • Where – Auditorium,  NAHB Conference Center, 1201 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.
  • Who – Carmie McCook, President, Carmie McCook & Associates, and Karen Addis, Senior Vice President, Van Eperen

Based in Washington, DC, Carmie McCook is a nationally respected, award winning executive communications expert, who has taught thousands of high-profile professionals, from CEOs of global 500 companies to small start-ups, how to become more powerful and credible communicators for media interview, B2B presentation, or public speaking event. For a full list of training services offered by Carmie McCook of Carmie McCook & Associates

Establishing Credibility and Likeability

Establishing Credibility and Likeability

Two necessary goals when being introduced as a keynote speaker

Imagine this scenario: You were just selected to be the keynote speaker at a conference. This is a great opportunity for you to establish yourself as an authority in your field to a captive audience of potential clients. Of course, developing a short speech that grabs and holds the audience’s attention is essential. But, to make an even stronger, positive impression, you need to actually grab your audience’s attention before you take the stage. That means you must establish credibility and set the stage for likeability. How? By always writing your own engaging introduction and sending it to the emcee or speaker coordinator.

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You’ve Been Invited to Speak. Now What? Part 3: Three things you need to know about the event’s format

Quick recap: In my last two posts, you’ve accepted the invitation to speak, you’ve done the research on your audience, you know the logistics about the room, and you’re finally ready to present. Just hold that thought one minute, though. What is the format of the speaking opportunity?

The term “format” is vague, but in this context I am referring to time factors and the overall agenda of the speaking event. Whether you are a solo presenter or part of a panel, all of these elements can make or break your success – and you want the odds stacked in your favor!

  1. Time allocation – It is critical to understand how much time has been allocated for you to speak. Typically, conferences schedule more time than is necessary for a memorable and engaging presentation, especially when the audience has already been sitting in other speaker workshops and presentations. Fifteen to twenty minutes is about as long as audience can remain attentive just listening to a single speaker in without having a lot of interactivity with the audience. For example, if the organizer gives you 45 minutes, tell her you will speak for 15-20 minutes then open the floor up to Q&A for 15 minutes, then suggest a 10 minute break. Or tell the organizer you only need 20 minutes to speak and let the organizer decide how to fill the additional 25 minutes. They can adjust their schedule by planning a break or bring the next speaker up earlier. Just don’t set yourself up for “wearing out your welcome” by speaking too long just to fill up time.
  2. Speaker/session schedule – If you are the solo speaker at an event, ask about what the audience will be doing just prior to coming to your presentation or what is on the agenda for right after you speak. If a pre-speaker networking reception is scheduled before you speak, get there early and mingle with the crowd. Ask questions: What do you hope to learn from my talk on XX today? What is the biggest question you have about XX? This gives you the opportunity to include some comments made to you by members of your audience, which always helps build “likability” between you and them.

When you are making a presentation of any kind, meals are you worst enemy. If you will be speaking during a meal, the challenges of holding any audience’s attention are quadrupled! Your energy level and content have to be at an extra high level from opening words to closing statement. Keep your presentation short. Ten minutes is as long as you can reasonably expect hungry people to remain attentive when their stomach is growling. When possible, ask that the serving of food and drinks be halted while you are speaking. Trying to talk over wait staff milling around with trays and coffee pots immediately diminishes the impact of your message.

If attendees just had lunch, you will be fighting the “post-lunch siesta” problem. You definitely want to keep your presentation short. But, if there is any way you can get the audience physically doing something, it will help keep their attention. Use your imagination and think of some activity that will tie in with your presentation: Ask everyone to write down something, stand and introduce themselves to a person near them, look under their chair for an envelope with a prize or something else in it, stand if they know the answer to a question you pose, etc. Incorporating physical movement always makes you stand out to an audience but it also helps combat “audience fatigue” when you have to speak right after a meal or at the end of long day.

  1. Panel discussions – This deserves a separate post (hint, hint!), but here are three quick questions to ask when being a part of a panel.

How many are on the panel? I advise my clients to avoid being on panels with four or more panelists. In my experience, three is the best size. A group of four can work if the moderator is a real professional and intervenes when someone goes over the allotted time for speaking (a topic for another post!). Otherwise, most panels with more than three speakers start causing problems: The panel discussion either goes overtime in an effort to accommodate every panelist, or the time for the discussion is too short for that many speakers and the moderator rushes everyone, giving some very little opportunity to speak. Either scenario is a recipe for the audience to quickly become disengaged and uninterested.

Who is the moderator and other panelist? Ask who the other panelists are and on what area of expertise they will be speaking. Ask for copies of their bios and Google their names and learn as much as you can about them. Ask who the moderator will be and get his contact information. To ensure a nice flow on event day, a good moderator will host a conference call with all of the speakers to review the format for the discussion. If one hasn’t been arranged, take the initiative to arrange one yourself. At this time you should discuss the general format of the panel discussion, agree on which speaker will address specific topics and the order of speakers, and review the rules on how long each person should speak when responding to questions.

May I speak first? If there is no obvious flow to who should speak first, prior to event day, ask the moderator to be the first to speak so you can set the tone and pace of the discussion. Even if Long-Winded Louie goes over his allotted speaking time and the discussion is running behind schedule, at least you have had the opportunity to connect with the audience before their attention drifted to picking up the kids from school or the cocktail reception awaiting them after the discussion!

Over the past three posts you learned what you need to know about your audience before you plan your presentation content, questions you should ask about the logistics of the room, and what you should know about the format of the event. Now, as long as you have followed my previous advice on developing and delivering fantastic content, you are ready to give a presentation worth of a TED Talk! See you on the stage!


You’ve Been Invited to Present, Now What? Part 2: Three Big Questions You Need to Ask About the Room Before You Present

You’ve accepted the invitation to speak, you’ve done the research on your audience, and you’ve just finalized your content. All done, right? Not necessarily.

While you have completed the bulk of the work for preparing to present, two things which are often overlooked are the setup of the room and technical logistics. The layout of the room and the technical components can have a huge impact on how smoothly your presentation goes. Everything from not being heard because of a poor microphone, to not being seen well because a huge support beam is blocking the view of part of the stage, will instantly cause your audience to tune out.    Read more