Freezing in public speaking

By Simon Hall

Simon Hall presenting

If you sometimes dry up, and can’t think of what to say next when presenting, this simple tip can really help…

When I’m doing individual coaching in public speaking and presentations, one question comes up more often than any other.

Perhaps it’s because the person is embarrassed, and couldn’t ask in front of others…

It goes like this:

– How can I stop myself from freezing when I’m speaking?


If you also suffer with this, then I hope it helps to know it’s a very common problem.

I met it with a very senior executive who I was coaching last week.

But even more so, it should help to know there are solutions:

- Preparing well helps, so you really know your lines.

- Warming up in advance of a presentation.

- Slowing down and breathing more deeply as you speak.


They're just some of the various tricks I suggest.

But here, I want to share my favourite.

It’s beautiful, because it seems so natural to the audience, and yet is so effective.


To explore it, let’s go back in British history to the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

Whatever your politics may be, put them aside.

Because I’m not making any partisan points here.

Just a cracking way to give yourself time to think of what to say when in a high pressure situation.

Harold Wilson smoking a pipe

Wilson was a committed pipe smoker, as you can see from the picture.

Strange though it may seem now…

Smoking was much more common back in his day. 

But Wilson took it a stage further.


He would bring his pipe into radio and TV studios, and newspaper interviews.

(Yes, really, however hard it may be to believe!)

And, apart from being a prop, and something he used as part of his image…

The pipe served a rather more cunning purpose.


Whenever Wilson was presented with a question which he didn’t immediately know how to answer…

He would light up his pipe, or suck on it, and take a puff…

In order to give himself time to think.


Because it was very much part of his character, it looked perfectly normal to an audience.

More importantly, it did the trick in giving himself space to compose an answer.


Now, I imagine you’re not a pipe smoker, and so are wondering how on earth this tip could be of use to you.

The answer is you can substitute something more modern and socially acceptable in place of the pipe.


If you worry about freezing when public speaking, and need to give yourself space to work out what to say next…

But without that awful moment, when you feel the audience is staring at you, wondering what’s gone wrong…

Just get into the habit of taking your own prop to any talk or presentation you might give.


A cup of tea or coffee is an obvious one.

You could use a bottle of water…

Or some other such healthy drink.

If you worry you’re about to freeze, just take a thoughtful sip.

It’ll look perfectly natural, and give you the time to work out what to say next.


And one further advantage to this trick:

There’s something about having it to hand, which provides a psychological safety net.

I’ve coached quite a few people now who have begun to use it, and noticed something remarkable.


Once they know exactly how to deal with any risk of freezing…

Because they’ve got their trusty cup of tea or coffee reassuringly in hand…

They find that they don’t freeze in their presentations any more.