Public Speaking: Tips for School Counselors, Chapter 1

3 out of 4 Americans fear public speaking. Learn how to get into that 25% that doesn't with these tips.


% of people who suffer from speech anxiety


% of all social phobias accounted for by speech anxiety

Number of Americans who have Glossophobia

Your palms sweat, lights glare, and the murmur dies to silence. As you walk to the podium – you feel your vascular system go into overdrive. Time for fight or flight to kick in. The sad truth is that for 75% of Americans – the flight reflex is what takes over. You, if you are statistically accurate, probably fall into that same 75%. The fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia, is a natural and normal reaction for most humans. Even I, a counselor who speaks at several conferences a year and gets up in front of students and parents many times a year, deals with the fluttery stomach syndrome before stepping up into the spotlight. However, through this post, I am going to share some tools that I have found helpful in overcoming some of the fear factors to take your speaking skills to the next level.

Fiery School Counselor Presentations: From Blah to Blazing

This post is designed to accompany a presentation from ASCA 2015 in Phoenix presented by Paul Smith, Stephanie Smith and I. Click the button below to head to the post containing the slides.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.

Mark Twain

Our words are important. Choose wisely.

As Masters level, credentialed/licensed professionals, school counselors are uniquely equipped, trained and positioned to support student growth, staff sanity, and the future development of our society. We have special insight into the mindset of our school sites. No matter if you are speaking to 10 parents, a classroom of 30 students, or 250+ school counselor colleagues, what we say and how we say it matters.

However, no matter what words we use or message we are trying to convey — if we cannot deliver them in an effective way, they tend to fall on deaf ears. This first chapter of the Public Speaking: Tips for School Counselors series of posts will focus on how YOU can take easy steps to feel more comfortable on stage and in front of others. The second chapter will transition into tools and techniques for making your presentation more engaging, remember-able, and awesome. Let’s dive in to Chapter 1.


Speaking Skills Tip #1 – Find your strength(s)

Each person on planet earth is good at something, whether they believe it or not. That may be public speaking….or it may be knitting. But the great thing about public speaking is that it is not an all or nothing effort. Public speaking skills come in shades of grey. My first tip to all you school counselors is to seek and find one or more of your best attributes in the area of public speaking.

When I think of asking colleagues (or students) to seek their strengths – I liken it to writing their own letter of recommendation or writing a cover letter. Most people find it difficult to write positive things about themselves. Negatives…we got that covered.

Activity Time

So sit back and think about the last few presentations you gave and analyze yourself from a positive direction. What words of affirmation could you give yourself? Write them down (shoot for at least 3). Was your vocal volume good? Did you make eye contact throughout the room? Perhaps you stepped away from the podium and interacted with the audience. While these individual things do not make someone a great speaker – identifying them does help to bolster your confidence. This is the first, and biggest, barrier to speech success.

[Tweet “”It is better to do one thing well than 4 things in mediocrity” #scchat #publicspeaking”]

Hopefully you were able to write down a few strengths and are feeling good about yourself, because now we are going to flip it. Write down no more than 3 weaknesses (keep them broad) that you know you can work on regarding public speaking. One example may be being afraid of getting put on the spot with a question you don’t know an answer to (see Method #1 to the right for ideas of how to solve this problem).

Putting it together

Now you have a short list of the good and bad of your public speaking experience. Look at that list – do any of the good correlate to the not so good? Can you find any themes between the two columns? For example: all my good things are related to the PowerPoint design, but the bad is all related to my speaking. We can use these areas of growth (remember how we phrase things makes a big difference — At Risk or At Promise?) to guide our next steps of development.

No matter what is on your list or what your perceived ability level as a speaker is – keep in mind that the worlds worst speaker (like literally the worst) and the worlds best (think MLK Jr. and Steve Jobs) could all come up with pros and cons and could end up with the same list. Your identity as a public speaker is not defined by these pros and cons or good and bad skills. Our identity is in what we speak about – our skill in delivering that identity that will come with time and practice.


“What we say is important… for in most cases the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”


Jim Beggs

Administrator, NASA

“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”


Winston Churchill

Method Tip #1

You can use all the time ahead of your presentation to strategically craft the design and delivery so you will not be put on the spot mid-speech. Give note cards to your audience for their questions that you (or a volunteer) can collect towards the end and this lets you filter which questions you answer. You can also have the audience add contact info so you can follow up on the harder ones later in the week.

Another tool is sticky notes – have a parking lot on a wall or table and have all questions get posted there. You just have to inform the audience that you will be taking questions from the cards or sticky notes only and stick to your guns.

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essayist, Lecturer and Poet

Speaking Skills Tip #2 – Command and control the room

This one tip will set the true tone of the room and stage a great speaker. Confidence when taking the stage will make or break any good presentation. The old adage “fake it ’till you make it” will be your mantra as we work on building our ability to take command of the room.

Almost every time you get up to speak to a group of people – they are specifically gathered to hear your words of wisdom, your story, or your approach to a problem. This is a huge bonus and should be a big confidence booster. Why? Because you rock and they want to see how you rock it!

Activity Time

This activity is quick, repeatable, and very helpful to do in the time right before you go on-stage. All it takes is you and a mirror. No mirror – do it anyway.

Just stand in front of the mirror (or say out loud):

[Tweet “”I am a school counselor. I am an expert in my field. I am going to act like it” #scchat”]

Think about what you just said. You have a Master’s degree – making you in the top 10% of all educated Americans. Most likely you have less than 10 school counselors at your site – making you specifically an expert in what you come to talk about. What other professional can come and speak with the breadth and depth of knowledge that you have? Not many. By believing this mantra and making it a part of your speaking routine – your confidence level will rise, your presentations will improve, and you will start feeling better in front of people.

You are Dam good.

Spellcheck did not get it wrong – as a speaker, you are the Dam. You control the flow of your presentation and you allow comments or stop comments/questions from coming through from the audience. When the water (audience) is allowed free flowing dialogue, the purpose of the presentation and your expertise comes into question. Part of feeling confident is taking charge and being able to, tactfully and respectfully, deflect questions until later and garner the floor back from a long-winded comment. It doesn’t always feel good to interrupt someone or not take a question, but think logically about it and think back to some presentations you have been to in the past. I know I hate it when someone hijacks a presentation with their “good idea”. While the idea may be good – people in the audience are not there to hear comments – they are there to hear you speak.

Luckily, school counselors are good at listening (which is sometimes a problem) and we can use some of our reflective listening skills to take the floor back. I like to use the “so I am hearing you say…” line and connect it back to what I was talking about. Then continue on with your talk.

[Tweet “Be prepared to tactfully squash contributions that can lead down unrelated paths” #scchat”]


“A book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be “half scared to death.” There are a great many “wet less” bathing suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way.”

Dale Carnegie

Author, How to Win Friends & Influence People

Speaking Skills Tip #3 – Learn from the greats

Proximity learning, observation and emulation. These are all opportunities to not re-create the wheel. Not every approach, every idea, and every speech topic is unique and brand new. I learn new things and get fresh ideas at almost every speech I attend. From ASCA conferences to church sermons – each one provides learning opportunities for those who keep a keen eye.

Activity Time

Purposefully seek out great speakers – check out TEDtalks, look up Steve Jobs on YouTube, and subjectively watch their techniques. What tools stand out to you? Was it how they created an air of suspense? How they re-visited their point to drive it home? Their use of images, sound, or video in their presentation?

Take notes on what you felt worked well and build that into your next two or three presentations. Also check out Method Tip #2 to the right for another idea for improving your presentation techniques.

“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.”

Somers White

That’s a wrap.

Practice these three tips and in the next chapter, come back to see more practical and applicable ideas, tips, and best practices regarding public speaking and presentations for school counselors.

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“If you don’t know what you want to achieve in your presentation your audience never will.”

Harvey Diamond

Speaker and Author

Method Tip #2

Enlist the help of a trusted colleague or friend. Have them sit in your audience and take notes just like you did with Steve Jobs and TEDtalks. They can provided constructive feedback and positive remarks regarding your own speaking techniques. What you feel works may not connect with the audience but those things you thought were a flop may have hit the target on the nose.

Speaking Skills Tip #1

Find your strength.


Speaking Skills Tip #2

Command and control the room.

Speaking Skills Tip #3

Learn from the greats.

[Tweet “Just learned me some public speaking tips for #schoolcounselors #scchat”]

Public Speaking Tips for School Counselors: Finding Your Strength…

time to read: 20 min

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