Friday, May 24, 2013

Five famous speeches by women who feared public speaking

Jacqueline Kennedy
According to numerous polls, you're more afraid of this than snakes. Or spiders. Or needles, enclosed spaces or heights. Thank goodness you're not likely to encounter any of these in combination with that chart-topping fear: public speaking.

Being a nervous or fearful public speaker isn't that unusual, but a few of the speakers in The Eloquent Woman Index had the unusual task of having to confront that fear in their very public roles. Speaking became a key part of their careers, and each of them found ways to push past their nerves to succeed. Take a look at their examples below. Could any of their techniques work for you?

1. Lady Bird Johnson prayed for smallpox before her high school graduation, so she wouldn't become valedictorian or salutatorian and have to give a speech. Now that's nervous. She didn't get sick but she did come in third, escaping the dreaded task. But her husband's vice presidency and presidency put her on stage early and often. This First Lady's 1964 whistle stop campaign tour of the southern United States put her to the test as a speaker who needed to rise above the raucous and sometimes insulting crowds, who were angry with her husband for signing civil rights legislation. One of her tips for the shy speaker: ask questions, as a way to build confidence and engage an audience.

2. Like Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy was forced to push past her shyness to speak on behalf of her husband in her role as First Lady. During her famous 1962 televised tour of the White House, her nerves were evident; one producer remarked on her "constricted voice." But Kennedy had prepared extensively for the speech, and she managed her nerves in part by taking pauses to collect her thoughts before each question.

3. How about one more First Lady? It's difficult to imagine Eleanor Roosevelt as a shy speaker, after she delivered so many eloquent remarks on everything from African American civil rights to women in the workplace to her 1949 remarks on the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights. She was also the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences and speak at a national political convention. For Roosevelt, intense bouts of writing and practice were key to overcoming her fear of public speaking.

4. Princess Diana was so terrified of public appearances when she first became part of the British royal family that the press dubbed her "Shy Di." But she knew there was no way she could avoid these appearances, and she worked with several speaking coaches to become more comfortable with public speaking. Her coaches noticed that she spoke best when she allowed herself to sound more conversational, and to speak from the heart. By the time she gave this 1997 presentation on the international ban on landmines, she had found a way to let her passionate interest guide her through a public event.

5. We've highlighted Rachel Carson's speeches as a scientist, but she also was a notably shy speaker--so much so, one of her biggest speeches was noted in her obituary as one she'd accepted despite her fears. She called herself "scared to death" before some of her earliest environmental talks, but she also used her passion for her subject to propel her into speeches she might have otherwise avoided.

The fearless freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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