Watching Window Washers

As I sat in the Mercantile Library on the 11th floor of a building in downtown Cincinnati, I watched window washers hanging from the side of an office building. They were washing windows at about the 24th floor of a neighboring structure. I began to get  a little queasy just thinking about standing on a plank that high above the ground, actually moving my body enough to wash windows rather than hanging on for dear life. As you might have guessed, I have a terrible fear of heights. These guys make a living dangling on the side of a high-rise building each day.

Fear is such a personal matter. These “high wire” performers who think nothing about swaying back and forth at such an elevation might not for any amount of money stand in front of an audience to deliver a speech. I certainly do get “butterflies in the stomach” when I speak, but I crave the challenge of holding an audience’s attention and sharing information that will be helpful to them. I don’t know what a window washer might say to me that would ease my fear of washing windows on a skyscraper, but here are some suggestions for the speaker to conquer his or her fears of speaking.

  1.  Be prepared. There is no substitute for preparation. Practice your speech, revise, and then practice again.
  2. Pick out friendly faces to speak to. These pleasant expressions will inspire you and help you relax.
  3. Think positive things about your content. One of my favorite thoughts is, “This information will be helpful to this audience.” Repeat this statement to yourself several times before you speak.
  4. Have a great opening line that you know will grab the attention of your audience.
  5. Pause before you begin to speak as you make eye contact with those friendly faces
  6. Include a personal experience early in your speech. You are most comfortable relating a story.

Maybe someday someone will convince me that washing windows 200 feet in the air is nothing to fear (I can’t imagine such a day), but I know these are ways that will relieve your anxiety in delivering a speech.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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