Maha Mondays

Maha Mondays: How Do I Face My Fear of Public Speaking?

Fear of public speaking

Image: Paul Stones

Our beloved advice guru Maha has recently been published in an incredible book of anthologies, “Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space and Resistance.” Recently, she spoke in Ottawa about her part in the book, and at least one reader thought she was magnificently confident (as we’re sure she was) – and wants to know how she did it. If you have your own question for Maha, don’t forget to write in the completely anonymous box at the bottom of the page! Happy Monday!


Dear Maha…

I watched your video a couple of times and you are such a natural speaker. You are very comfortable in front of an audience and I am terrified of speaking in front of more than a few people if I don’t know them. I’m a masters student next year and will have to speak in front of an audience eventually and want to be as poised as you if possible. Do you have any advice or tricks to help me get there?

Dearest ChallengedByPublicSpeaking,

Thank you so much for your gracious words. Did you buy the book? You really should buy the book because my story is the least interesting of the lot and it is both an honour and a pleasure to be included alongside the caliber of women in this collection of stories.

As to your question – here’s a little secret: I am terrified of public speaking. I become nauseous and anxious, jittery and twittery. If standing, I begin to physically shake. For the first few minutes, anyway, until I become comfortable with the room at which point I can then engage as though it is one-on-one.

Here are my five personal top tricks:

1) Welcome the anxiety and the fear. Don’t try to change, delete or fight it. Rather, accept that it is ever-present and start to work alongside it.

2) Practice. A lot. Do it in front of a mirror, time yourself, videotape yourself, make note of / highlight the areas where you stumble so that when you’re in front of everyone, you will know when to slow down.

2) Learn your material inside and out. Commit to what you are saying, and your audience will commit with you. Because we can all read and no one wants monotone. Give them something they can’t get themselves – make this your hook. Ultimately, whatever you’re presenting is something you believe in and can get behind, so make sure that shows.

3) Contrary to what you may want to do, please don’t rush it. Don’t ever use as starting point ‘just get this over with’, because that is selling your audience short and they will know it. Your choice is fight or flight, and in every one of these public speaking engagements, choose fight and actively keep that at the forefront of your thinking.

Another way to think about this point is to anchor it firmly in psychology. The definition of a ‘phobia’ is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. When someone has a phobia of snakes, the cure is to physically hold onto, play with, become comfortable with a snake. Same goes with public speaking. Don’t run from it, rather engage it directly.

4) Take very deep breaths and concentrate not on your audience, but rather on what you are thinking and reading. This links directly into often translates into moving slowly, which is how to best avoid tripping over your words.

5) Don’t pretend that your audience is anything. Don’t pretend they’re nude or in their underwear. Don’t hinge anything on them, but rather make it all about the topic which you are presenting. Your focus should be on that because that is immovable and it will not react incorrectly. As example, let’s pretend that a part of what you’re saying might, you think, bring about a laugh or two. Only, it doesn’t. And you are suddenly feeling as though you have not connected with the audience. Potentially, if that is where your focus is, you may suddenly hit a wall of paralysis because your audience did not perform how you had intended for them to perform.

This is why your focus should not be on your audience (unless you are a comedian, which you are not), but rather on the material. Live inside of that material as engaged as possible and your audience will naturally connect to this material through you.

You will be brilliant!

In your corner (with much advance applause),


One thought on “Maha Mondays: How Do I Face My Fear of Public Speaking?

  1. Pingback: Maha Mondays: Online chatting exclusivity & public speaking | Prolific Immigrant

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