3 Public Speaking Nightmares … and How to Survive Them

“At least I didn’t throw up.”

A common comment from my reluctant speaking clients who have just survived their first presentation gauntlet.

The fear of up-chucking reigns supreme amongst those who aren’t enamored with being in the spotlight.

In fact, a lawyer friend once identified his greatest strength as never having thrown up in the middle of trial … yet.

These types of comments always bring a knowing smile to my face.

You see, I’ve had my own run-in with this public speaking nightmare … and a few others as well. Unfortunately for me, three nightmares occurred the very same day during the very same speaking experience.

I am proof that you can survive these nightmares and live to tell about it.

Nightmare 1: Losing the Voice

My freshman year of college, I was at the national mock trial competition when I woke up hoarse.

As a seasoned speaker, I didn’t panic. I had delivered many speeches with less than perfect vocal health. For nearly two months of my senior year of high school I participated in competitive speech with a bronchial infection that sent me into coughing fits at a moment’s notice. Hoarseness I could work with.

I drank hot tea with lemon and honey. I popped Fisherman’s Friend like candy. I rested my voice until just before the round started.

Then, I tried to practice my opening statement. Nothing came out.

Complete loss of voice was something new and it scared me!

Nightmare 2: Getting Sick

For most of that morning I had been so focused on nursing my throat, that I didn’t notice I was also dizzy, achy, and weak. As soon as I realized my voice was completely gone, it hit me.

I was really, really, really sick.

We didn’t have a thermometer, but it was clear I was burning up. There were beads of sweat on my brow, and even standing outside in extremely cold weather didn’t cool me off.

At this point, I probably would’ve bailed, if quitting was an option. But this was a team competition and there was no understudy. There was no Plan B if someone on the team wasn’t able to do their part.

So I mopped off my forehead and did my best to pull myself together.

Nightmare 3: Vomit

When it came time to do my opening statement, I stood as close to the judges as politely possible and whispered my way through the speech, relying on facial expressions, gestures, and body movement to convey the emotion my voice couldn’t.

I also made my way through the direct examination of the first witness and sank back in my chair, relieved that I wouldn’t have to speak again for about an hour.

My boyfriend (now husband) was just beginning his examination of our second witness when that terrible, instantly recognizable, horrifying feeling rose up in my throat.

I was going to puke.

Assuming the judges would probably prefer the vomiting to not happen directly in front of them, I bolted from my chair, sped out the classroom door, and, blessedly, was greeted by the site of an industrial trash can right there in the hallway.

Confidence: The Key to Surviving

I’ll spare you the grody details, but it was pretty bad. And I was wearing a brand new suit, too. (Sad face.)

After the volcanic eruption, I actually felt a little better. I was still feverish, but not nearly as bad as before. I went to the bathroom, cleaned up, put a wet paper towel on my forehead, gargled a ton of water, and spot-checked my jacket for any stray splatters.

I vividly remember looking in the mirror and realizing that absolutely NOTHING could ever be more awful than what I had just endured.


It was almost funny. Not quite funny. But almost.

I squared my shoulders and walked back into the room with my head held high. When it came time, I did the best cross-examination I could, even though my voice barely squeaked out. Through my feverish haze, I knew I was moving around the make-shift courtroom with increased confidence.

I had faced some of the worst speaking nightmares (maybe the worst nightmare) and lived to tell about it. I could face anything!

Making it through the round was victory enough for me, but when we got the ballots back, I was startled to find that I had received several votes for Top Advocate. My boyfriend (now husband) said they were pity votes, but I disagree.

Confidence and determination communicate even when voices and bodies don’t cooperate.

Hold your head high in all circumstances and you’ll survive!

Conquer your public speaking fear and become a dynamic presenter with customized coaching!


What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you when speaking publicly? What do you fear the most? Tell us in the comments section below.

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