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Overcoming Public Speaking Fears: Barbara May's 'Pause, Breathe, Think, Then Speak' Approach

Updated: Jan 29

Hello, I'm Barbara May. Drawing from my diverse experiences as a gymnast, coach, comedian and facilitator of over 1000 training sessions, I've come to understand the nuances of overcoming public speaking fears. Today, I'm excited to share the 'Pause, Breathe, Think, Then Speak' approach, a technique I advocate for managing fear and nervousness throughout your entire presentation.

Barbara May speaking at a conference
Barbara May Speaking at a Conference

Understanding Public Speaking Anxiety

Fear in public speaking often arises from the fear of judgment or making mistakes. This anxiety can manifest as either freezing up and going blank or speaking rapidly without coherence. Recognizing this fear as a natural response is the first step in overcoming it.

The 'Pause, Breathe, Think, Then Speak' Technique

This technique is more than just a series of steps; it's a mindset that helps you regain control of your speaking experience. It's not just for the beginning of your presentation but should be woven throughout your entire speech.

1. Pause: Regularly pause to gather your thoughts and focus.

2. Breathe: Use deep, controlled breathing to calm nerves and clear your mind.

3. Think: Organize your thoughts during these pauses. Reflect on what you want to convey next.

4. Speak: After this brief preparation, speak with clarity and purpose.

The Power of Preparation

Preparation is crucial. It involves rehearsing your material, visualizing your performance, and refining your message. This preparation, coupled with the 'Pause, Breathe, Think, Then Speak' method, ensures a more confident and composed delivery.

Navigating Nervousness in Speech

When nervousness strikes, people tend to speak too quickly, leading to a lack of clarity. Regular pauses allow for natural breaks in your speech, making it easier for the audience to follow and for you to maintain composure.

Breathing: A Key to Effective Speaking

Deep breathing is not just about managing fear; it also helps in staying present and focused. It ensures your speech is coherent and impactful.

Gradual Exposure: Building Confidence

Start with smaller, less intimidating speaking scenarios, like one-on-one interactions, and gradually move to larger groups. This step-by-step approach builds confidence and skill, much like learning a cartwheel on the floor before trying it on a balance beam.

Incorporating the Technique in Various Settings

This technique is versatile and applies to numerous scenarios, whether a team meeting, a safety briefing, a board presentation, or a town hall.

Connecting with Your Audience

Engaging with your audience is crucial. Pausing allows you to gauge their reactions and adapt your speech accordingly. It's not just about delivering information; it's about creating an interaction.

Handling Questions with Poise

When faced with questions, use this method to compose yourself and think through your response, ensuring a thoughtful and articulate answer.

Enhancing Clarity with Pauses

Strategic pausing helps in enhancing the clarity of your speech. It’s not just controlling speed but also enhancing engagement and understanding.

Embracing the Journey

Through my experiences, including overcoming a life-threatening health crisis, I've learned the value of facing and conquering challenges. These experiences have shaped my approach to public speaking and life: If you get back up, anything is possible.

Practical Tips for Effective Public Speaking

- Practice identifying natural break points for pauses in your speech.

- Incorporate deep breathing into your practice sessions.

- Regularly 'Think, Then Speak' to ensure your message is clear and effective.


The 'Pause, Breathe, Think, Then Speak' approach is a powerful tool in transforming public speaking fears into a source of strength. By integrating this technique throughout your presentation, you can enhance both your speaking effectiveness and audience engagement. Remember, every public speaking challenge is an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Keep speaking, keep pausing, and keep connecting!

Kind regards,

Barbara May


Picture of Barbara May with the Sturgeon River in the background
Barbara May Stumbling Blocks Team Building Seminars

About Barbara May

Known for her "Stumbling Blocks" philosophy and a multifaceted career spanning over three decades across diverse fields, including sport and recreation, education, not-for-profit management, entertainment and government, Barbara May uses a rich blend of personal stories, humorous examples, and real-world insight to encourage and empower leaders and teams to succeed. She embodies her key message: If you get back up, anything is possible.

Her distinctive background, including joking her way into the Guinness World Records and surviving life-threatening pulmonary embolism (blood clots in her lungs), adds an engaging and inspiring layer to her presentations. She delivers interactive keynotes, team building seminars and leadership training programs where laughter meets learning and stumbling blocks transform into building blocks for effective communication, teamwork, and leadership. Home | Barbara May | Stumbling Blocks Team Building Seminars

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