We've all seen the statistic: Most people rate their fear of public speaking higher than fear of death itself.

This commonly cited (and questionable) statement seems to have originated from The Book of Lists (1977), which got its information from an elusive 1973 study called the "Bruskin Report," a study consisting of a small sample of people who were asked to choose and rate their biggest fears from a list which also included heights, bugs, flying, and elevators.

Even if such a survey were conducted scientifically, it's just silly to compare the abstract idea of death vs. public speaking. As Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

And it's certainly not helpful information if you find yourself in the position of having to give a speech or presentation. What does help is thorough preparation and a few simple tips:

  • If time allows, talk to a few members of the audience beforehand so you'll have some friendly faces to look at while speaking.
  • Begin by telling a story or anecdote, not by thanking them. Have it memorized so that you can make eye contact with your group. Don't tell a joke unless you're really good at it.
  • Don't apologize or mention being nervous.
  • Keep it simple; people don't remember much when they hear a speech. 
  • Don't lower the lights for slideshows; you want people to be able to see you.
  • Know the goal of your speech.
  • Practice your transitions to move from one point to the next.
  • Use Powerpoint to elicit an emotional response from your audience; not as an outline for your speech.
  • Stand up straight and pretend you're having a good time.
  • Tell stories to get your point across - you don't have to memorize anything and it sounds spontaneous.
  • Practice out loud in the shower or in front of a small audience.  Replace "um" and "uh" with silence.
  • Leave them wanting more.

Many people find that joining Toastmasters International is a no-pressure way to hone their elocution skills. There is no teacher, and members give each other helpful feedback on 10 self-paced speaking assignments which are designed to instill a basic foundation in public speaking. Toastmasters has several Denver locations.

I'm not sure how Powerpoint got such a bad reputation - maybe it comes from speakers who simply read aloud what's on the screen and miss the real benefit, which is providing interesting visuals that support your talk. Many studies have shown that charts, graphs and other pictures prompt comprehension and memory. If you've never used Powerpoint, DPL offers free classes at the Central Library.

For further inspiration, DPL has a variety of materials to help with any speaking occasion:

For adults:

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds (2007)

The Art of Speeches and Presentataions: The Secrets of Making People Remember What You Say by Philip Collins (2012, eBook)

Better Powerpoint: Quick Fixes Based on How Your Audience Thinks by Stephen M. Kosslyn (2011)

How to Write and Deliver a Loving Eulogy by Leo Seguin (1999)

Start With a Laugh: An Insider's Guide to Roasts, Toasts, Eulogies and Other Speeches by Liz Carpenter (2000)

For kids

Speaking Up, Speaking Out: A Kid's Guide to Making Speeches, Oral Reports, and Conversation by Steven Otfinoski (1996)

Making the Speech by Amanda Gray-Swain (2005, DVD)


Saber Hablar by Antonio Briz (2008)

Please contact Reference Services, located on Level 3 of the Central Library, for all of your information needs:
• Phone: 720-865-1363; TTY: 720-865-1480
Email Reference
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By Appointment

Written by Lisa on March 13, 2013


Henry Higgins on March 15, 2013


These are very useful tips! Glad to see you don't advocate picturing your audience in their underwear. That advice always seemed more distressing than helpful.

JAS on March 19, 2013


Great article. I've been a member of Homesteaders Toastmasters (which meets just down the street from the Central Library) for years now. It is truly a wonderfully supportive environment for practicing public speaking and leadership skills.

Anonymous on July 21, 2014


Thank you for the tips, I really like the one about trying to identify some friendly faces before the speech. Tom over at Fear of Public Speaking has some great advice in addition to this. One of my favourites is to visit the room before you make your presentation so you know what to expect when you are presenting for real.

Hope this helps some of you!

Anonymous on October 9, 2014


love it amazing work keep it up stranger

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