Palms Sweaty, Knees Weak, Arms Heavy…How to Beat Speech Anxiety with Carmie McCook

Whether you’re a student, intern or CEO, there will come a time when you must speak in front of an audience, which can be intimidating. As humans we tend to immediately think of all the things that could go wrong like tripping on stage or the audience laughing at us. So, we overcompensate and write boring word-for-word scripts and over-explain simple subjects. But if that doesn’t work, how can we successfully beat speech anxiety?

On today’s episode of the PR Talk podcast, Amy sits down with Executive Communications Coach Carmie McCook. She emphasizes why speaking well is an important career booster, gives tips for easing on-stage nerves, and shares how she built her confidence over the years.

A Slow Moving Boat, Not a Train

Carmie says she was shy as a little girl and didn’t have the best childhood or support system. Her father was extremely negative and regularly pointed out her flaws, so she felt undeserving and had low confidence. It wasn’t until the 6th grade that anyone used her name and the word “amazing” in the same sentence. Carmie’s teacher had encouraged her to answer questions in class and show the world what she had to offer. So, Carmie said she became a little bit of an actress and started to speak and act as confidently as her teacher did. She helped her peers with their student government campaigns and received tons of praise for her talents.

Saying “she was a slow-moving boat, not a train,” Carmie’s confidence steadily grew but she didn’t become a public speaking coach overnight. Going to college for broadcast communications at Georgia State, Carmie tried her hand at being a journalist. While it ended up not being the job for her, it led her to produce commercials and prep CEOs for their lines on camera. Today she trains clients from all over the world to overcome their fears and become excellent public speakers.


Most Common Mistakes 

Carmie has seen her fair share of public speaking slip-ups, but notes the three most important things to avoid when giving a speech.

  1. Lack of energy – Nobody wants to listen to a monotone presentation. If the presenter looks bored, the audience will get bored.
  2. Writing a script – Reading off a sheet of paper may feel safer when in front of an audience, but it ruins the connection aspect which will lessen the impact of your speech.
  3. Over-explaining – You don’t want your audience to lose interest because you rambled too long. Leave room for questions at the end for further discussion.

Amy points out that today a lot of speeches must be done virtually and asks Carmie what mistakes she’s seen on Zoom lately. Carmie says the list goes on…

  1. Poor lighting – Be sure to find front-facing lighting and avoid shadows across your face.
  2. Bad camera angles – Don’t look down at the camera, make sure to raise it up so you can stand tall and not slouch down.
  3. Distracting backgrounds – Prepare your background so it’s clean and simple.
  4. Slack clothing – Would you wear that to the office? No? Then change into something more professional.


Put Your Best Foot Forward and Keep it Out of Your Mouth 

It’s clear that speech anxiety can get the best of us and mistakes can easily be made, so Amy asked Carmie what tips she has for getting over public speaking nerves. Carmie first emphasizes that we need to act natural and be honest above all else, but adds a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Calm down
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others
  3. Focus on the things you can do and not what you can’t 
  4. Less is best

When you’re on stage or in front of a camera and realize you are rambling a bit, just stop, admit you could explain your point more simply, smile and go on. If you completely blank out in the middle of your sentence, just say that you lost your train of thought and hopefully you can find it later on, laugh and go on. No one expects a speaker to be perfect, we are all human and everyone makes mistakes. 


An Investment in Public Speaking is An Investment in Your Future Career

So now that we know how to beat speech anxiety, Amy wanted to learn how speaker training and purposeful storytelling affect the bottom line. Carmie explained that communication and connection lead to sales. Your company could have the best product on the market, but if you can’t connect or relate to your customers, you won’t be successful. Carmie says she likes to live by this quote by Warren Buffet: “If you learn to communicate clearly and succinctly, I guarantee you will make at least 50% more in your lifetime.” 

Amy and Carmie also discuss the differences between media interviews versus public speaking engagements, how to prepare for a speech and give more tips to build confidence. Listen to the full episode to invest in your future career! 


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About the guest: Carmie McCook

Carmie McCook is an internationally respected public speaking and media interview expert. She has taught thousands of business professionals and other individuals how to become more dynamic, engaging, and persuasive speakers for any media interview, B2B presentation, or public speaking event. Using her techniques, Carmie’s clients have won major competitive contracts, launched new products globally, received promotions, secured funding, handled tough questions from TV reporters, appeared on news programs, responded credibly in crisis situations, and enjoyed standing ovations after giving a speech.

Connect and follow Carmie on social media:

Carmie McCook on PR Talk

This episode of PR Talk is brought to you by PRSA Oregon

Throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, PRSA provides members with networking, mentorship, skill building and professional development opportunities – whether you are a new professional fresh out of college or a skilled expert with 20 years in the industry. Check out for more information on how membership can help you grow and connect.

Samantha Custer
Samantha is a freelance contractor at Veracity Marketing and helps streamline PR efforts for our vertical markets. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications and has a great interest in influencer marketing and social media content creation.