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The thought of speaking in public terrified Kay Enlow.

“Even when I had to ask a question in a staff meeting, you could see my blouse move, my heart was beating so fast,” says the administrative assistant in Hallmark Cards’ employee relations department.

But now, a few years later, she’s just finished a term as president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, a stint that required her to attend dozens of conferences, workshops, fundraisers and more.

At almost every event, she spoke confidently in front of an audience.

She transformed herself after making a key decision: “A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to step into a leadership role with the association, and if I was going to do that, I needed to work on standing in front of people.”

Here’s how Enlow conquered her fear:

  • Build up nerve by asking questions. Enlow’s first step: trying to be the first to ask a question in any meeting or presentation … something that would have turned her bright red in the past. She worked her way up from department meetings to all-staff meetings. “By [asking questions in public], I was actually ‘public speaking,’” Enlow says, “although I didn’t think of it that way.”With practice, her nervousness faded away.

  • Think of public speaking as telling a story. When Enlow speaks or presents to an audience, she incorporates personal stories. “People are moved by personal stories, and they’re more likely to remember what you say,” she points out. It also makes speaking easier, Enlow says, because she can focus on the feeling behind the story, rather than on her own jitters.

  • Engage the audience, one member at a time. Whether you’re asking a question or speaking to a crowd, look at one person at a time. When you make eye contact, try to remember the color of the person’s eyes. “When you’re focusing that hard, the other person feels that you’ve really engaged them,” she says. “And since it can be hard to stare someone in the eyes, this trick can help.”
Not only have they helped Enlow become an association leader, those steps also helped her win recognition at Hallmark. She’s now known as someone who always crafts a thoughtful question.

“At meetings now,” Enlow says, “as soon as they say, ‘Are there any questions?’ everyone looks at me.”

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