It’s Normal to Fear Public Speaking! Seven Tips to Help You Prepare

By Barbara Bucklin, PhD and Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

bSci21 Contributing Writers

A year ago, Manny wrote an overview about presentation skills that discussed how public speaking is behavior that can be learned. In the article, How to Bring ABA to the World Through Public Speaking, he encouraged behavior analysts to disseminate our science through effective public speaking.

Last month at the OBM Network conference in Miami, we delivered a workshop on presentation skills and it became even more clear to us that people in our field are looking for ways to improve their presentations. Just like the rest of the world, most behavior analysts are afraid of public speaking. Guess what? It’s NORMAL to be afraid. But what do people do who are “afraid” of public speaking? They avoid it! If you’re one of those people, when you avoid public speaking, you limit access to a broad range of reinforcing experiences such as potential employment, professional relationships, and social and professional participation (Friman, 2014). We want to help you. And we want behavior analysts to be in the public eye, which is critical to our vitality and growth as a field. We have to present our ideas if we want to continue to make a positive impact on the world.

To facilitate our workshop, we created four checklists. This article will cover the first one – skills to help you prepare to present. We’ll give you subsequent checklists over the next three months. You can use the series of checklists to deliver a polished presentation; it’s compiled from Behavior Analysts to the Front! A 15-Step Tutorial on Public Speaking (Friman, 2014); 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best TED Talks (Haden, 2014); and Tips from TED: 10 Commandments of Public Speaking (2013).

We start with the checklist and then define each item in more detail. We also provide a few TED Talk examples to emphasize the tips and to help you study people who are good in front of the room.

Study People who are Good in Front of the Room.

  • Carefully watch speakers that you find excellent. Identify their behaviors and emulate anything you can reproduce (Friman, 2014).
  • Watch this TED Talk Example of an excellent presenter from Behavior Analysis: TedX Talk, Scott Gellar, PhD.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

  • Practice over and over again. Practice produces fluency, and fluency underlies mastery (Lindsley, 1992).
  • According to Friman, while it’s important to practice your entire presentation, it’s most important to practice (to fluency) the first five minutes when you’re most nervous and last five minutes when you’re making the most important points.
  • Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend. Check the timing, and ask your friend for feedback on clarity and impact. (TED, 2013)
  • Create a routine that helps center you emotionally. Walk the room ahead of time to check sight lines. Check microphone levels. Run through your presentation at the site to ensure it’s ready to go. Pick things to do that are beneficial and do them every time. You’ll find comfort in the familiar, and confidence, too.
  • Don’t make excuses. Due to insecurity, many speakers open with an excuse such as, “I didn’t get much time to prepare,” or, “I’m not very good at this.” Excuses won’t make your audience cut you any slack, but they’ll make people think, “Why are you wasting my time?” Prepare to ensure you won’t need to make excuses (Haden, 2014).

Prepare the Room (and Yourself in the Process)

According to Friman:

  • Visit your presentation room before you present.
  • The room should be set up to serve you, the speaker, not those who organize the room or the event. If you don’t like it, rearrange it to serve your presentation.
  • Go to the front and stand where you will be presenting. If you’re alone, practice the first five minutes and last five minutes to your imaginary audience; if you’re not alone, do the practice mentally.
  • Test the microphone if you can before you start. If a wireless microphone is available, use it. In fact, prefer it. “Mobility increases presentational flexibility.”
  • If you’re using any media, from power point presentations to video, test it and test it again.

Dress for the Occasion

  • Your appearance is the first thing most audience members will notice.
  • Aim for a level of dress slightly better than the average audience member; this communicates respect and is one indication that you have an elevated role in the room. (Friman)
  • If you dress down, you convey disrespect. If you dress up too much, you risk drawing attention to your clothes rather than to yourself.
  • Ideally, audience members should identify you as the speaker the moment you enter the room; the clothing you select can assist them in doing so.

Have a Back-Up Plan

  • Assume Murphy’s Law will operate on your presentation; anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
  • When you use audio or video clips, have some well-rehearsed verbal material to substitute if the AV systems won’t work.
  • Bring a paper copies of your slides to use as handouts; be prepared to write notes on a flip chart.

Burn off a Little Cortisol

  • Cortisol is secreted by your adrenal glands when you’re anxious or stressed. High cortisol levels limit your creativity and your ability to process complex information; when you’re buzzed on cortisol, it’s almost impossible to read and react to the room (Haden).
  • Exercise is the easiest way to burn off cortisol. Work out or take a walk before your presentation.
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Nilofer Merchant: Got a meeting? Take a walk.

Fuel Your Mental Engine

  • Dopamine and epinephrine help regulate mental alertness. Both come from tyrosine, an amino acid found in proteins. So make sure to include protein in the meal you eat before your presentation. (Haden).
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. When you’re really nervous, eating may be the last thing you want to do.
  • Watch this TED Talk Example: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.

Be on the lookout for the next checklist, which will provide skills to help you design your presentation content.

Do you have any tips for public speaking that were not on our list?  Please share them in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


10 Tips on How to Make Slides that Communicate your Idea, from TED’s In-House Expert. Posted by: TED Staff July 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm EDT. Retrieved from:

Friman, P.F. (2014). Behavior Analysts to the Front! A 15-Step Tutorial on Public Speaking. The Behavior Analyst, 37, 109-118.

Haden, F. (2014). 20 Public Speaking Tips of the Best TED Talks. Published June 26, 2014. Retrieved on July 8, 2015. Retrieved from:

Lindsley, O.R. (1992). Precision teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 51-57.

Rodriguez, M. (2016). Bring ABA to the World Through Public Speaking. Retrieved from:

Tips from TED: 10 Commandments of Public Speaking April 2013. Retrieved July 8, 2015.



Barbara Bucklin, PhD is a global learning and performance improvement leader with 20 years of experience who collaborates with her clients to identify performance gaps and recommend solutions that are directly aligned with their core business strategies. She oversees design and development processes for learning (live and virtual), performance-support tools, performance metrics, and a host of innovative blended solutions.

Dr. Bucklin serves as President Elect and is on the Board of Directors for the Organizational Behavior Management Network. She has taught university courses in human performance technology, the psychology of learning, organizational behavior management, and statistical methods. Her research articles have appeared in Performance Improvement Quarterly and the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management. She presents her research and consulting results at international conventions such as the Association for Talent Development (ATD), International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Training Magazine’s Conference and Expo, and the Organizational Behavior Management Network.  You can contact Dr. Bucklin at [email protected]

Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years experience, working with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President of the Organizational Behavior Management Network. You can contact him at [email protected].

Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact [email protected].

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