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Conquer your fear of public speaking with these foolproof techniques

Ramit Sethi

Before I was CEO of this company, I used to be super awkward. I went from being shy about speaking to a New York Times best-selling author interviewed on national TV.

My biggest fear was that I’d stay awkward. I’m not alone in this. The Washington Post listed public speaking as America’s top fear. I thought people were born with the gift of social skills.

But I was wrong.

Even famous comedians like Jimmy Fallon, who look so natural and comfortable on stage, felt nervous in the beginning. Just look at Jimmy Fallon’s audition tape for Saturday Night Live. Between skits, you can tell he is nervous. Watch him look at the ground. Listen to his voice wavering.

Now look at a clip of him hosting The Tonight Show. Totally different guy. He’s confident. He has presence.

So how did Fallon become such a “natural” at public speaking? The same way Steve Jobs did: practice.

In her post on demystifying the Steve Jobs magic, social skills expert Olivia Fox Cabane outlines Jobs’ somewhat painful history of public speaking:

“Think Steve Jobs was always this charismatic on stage? Think again.

When he first presented the Macintosh in 1984, he spends most of his time hiding behind the lectern. He’s reading from his notes, and has zero engagement with the audience. His body language is low-confidence, displaying hunched shoulders; often looking down (he frequently seems to be looking at his shoes.)

He seems bashful, awkward, shy.

“The Steve Jobs of 2000, announcing his return as CEO of Apple and introducing the Apple G4 is a different animal altogether. He’s a showman now. He owns the stage. His eye contact is now outstanding. Hand gestures are few, and are now deliberate.”

See what I mean?

Even Steve Jobs had to learn how to command a room. He constantly practiced and improved his presentations and stories. As Olivia puts it, “by 2007, his body language was so understated, casual, comfortable. He could be speaking from his living room.”

These speakers mastered their craft. And to become a master at anything, you need to practice deliberately, not mindlessly.

Today, I want to show you two ways to systematically build confidence in your public speaking and storytelling. This way, the next time you have to speak at a wedding or do a presentation at work, you can walk in there knowing your audience will love it.

First, let me show you what not to do.

Never picture anybody naked

There is so much terrible advice out there for public speaking. Remember people telling you to “just picture everyone in the crowd naked”? WORST advice ever.

Think about it. You are about to do your best man’s speech at a wedding and you are super nervous. In front of you are all the family and friends you grew up with. Picturing them naked will not help you in this situation. If anything, it will make it 10x worse.

Here’s what to do instead.

Use these 2 fool-proof techniques to tell the perfect story

Ever have a joke fall flat or be in the middle of telling a story and notice that no one is listening anymore?

It might just be a boring story. But more often, the problem lies in the way it’s presented.

It’s the difference between a beautifully wrapped present and one that comes in a brown paper bag. It may be the same present, but the wrapped present is noteworthy. The brown paper bag underwhelms.

The same goes for telling stories. The way you present the story matters.

The first technique I want to show you the “S.O.S. Framework”.

S.O.S. Framework

This storytelling framework has three parts: situation, obstacle, and solution. It’s perfect for telling stories about “challenges” you faced.

Using this technique to craft your story helps you create a compelling narrative because obstacles naturally evoke powerful emotions. This framework also forces you clarify what your beginning, middle, and end are, giving you a cohesive and clear story. This S.O.S. framework can also be adapted to both social and professional situations.

Here’s how to apply it:

  • Think of an everyday sort of challenge you have faced (like an encounter with some jerk) or a career challenge (if you’re at an interview).
    • Example: When you’re in line to buy a burger
  • Divide your story into thirds: Situation, Obstacle, and Solution
    • Example:

Situation: “I was in line to buy a burger at Shake Shack and…”

Obstacle: “The woman ahead of me started yelling at the cashier. I usually never get involved, but the cashier was new and looked like she was about to cry.”

Solution: “I didn’t really even know what to say, but I interrupted and she immediately stopped yelling at the cashier and snapped out of her tantrum and left. The cashier was so grateful for it that she gave me my meal for free.”

Simple, but easy to forget. We’ve all listened to and shared stories that ramble without any direction or start strong and just stop. Using the S.O.S. technique will help you deliver a memorable story every time.

The S.E.T.H.I. Framework

Once you have solidified your story, it’s time to focus on HOW you tell it. Remember, how you tell the story is as important as the story itself. Luckily, I have named this framework after myself to help you easily remember it.

In the following video, I outline 5 techniques that will drastically improve the way you tell your story. They are:

  1. Smile: Don’t forget to smile. It’s your “invitation” for people to listen and to smile back.
  2. Energy: As a general rule, add 50% more energy to every aspect of your storytelling, including facial expressions, intonation, and movement. You need to dial up the energy. It may feel weird at first, but trust me, any emotion you’re trying to evoke (excitement, joy, fear) will fall flat UNLESS you increase your energy.
  3. Talk Slower: Take your time. Don’t rush your story as if this were your only chance to share. Give your audience time and space to absorb every word you are saying.
  4. Hands: If you study great storytellers, you notice they use their hands for emphasis. They keep their hands visible and out of their pockets. Similarly, you want to avoid using your hands to “shield” your body (crossing your arms, covering your mouth).
  5. “I” (Eye) Contact: Eye contact is one of the most powerful tools if used right. With just a glance, you can convey friendliness, sadness, excitement or intrigue.Try testing out your eye contact when telling stories. See what works and what doesn’t.  

Watch this video to see the S.E.T.H.I. Technique in action and transform the way you tell stories.


Use this checklist to start telling great stories even faster

When you put the S.O.S and S.E.T.H.I. framework together, you have a powerful foundation for telling stories. S.O.S. helps you solidify the story you want to tell and the S.E.T.H.I. framework gets you practicing and polishing the perfect delivery. These tools are a great way to overcome any fear of public speaking.

But as I always say, top performers don’t just want two or three tips. They want to know everything.

That’s why I created a “How to Tell a Great Story” checklist for you. Whenever you want to tell a new story, use this checklist to transform that story from a mere idea to a compelling narrative that keeps people listening with rapt attention.

Show me the “How to Tell a Great Story” checklist

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