Your most common fear might also be the skill that will help you get ahead in your career. Employers say that the most in-demand skill is strong communication skills, according to a study by LinkedIn. But more than a quarter of us rank public speaking as our top personal fear, second to snakes but before spiders. How can you improve your speaking if you’d rather handle a tarantula than make a presentation?
“No one is born a great communicator; it takes practice,” says Audrey Mann Cronin, founder of the communications firm Say It Media. “Strong communication skills—the ability to be a powerful, persuasive, and articulate speaker—can be pivotal to success.”
Fortunately, technology can help. From too many “ums” to too many butterflies, apps can help you get over these four speaking fears so you can impress your listener.
Using Filler Words
We’ve all encountered a speaker who fills pauses with words like “um” or “okay.” Unfortunately, this habit can be harmful, says Mann Cronin, creator of the app, LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach (iOS).
“We all want to speak in a way that compels others to listen, but when we insert too many ‘likes,’ ‘sos,’ ‘ya knows,’ and ‘totallys,’ we lessen our credibility, water down our meaning, distract our listeners, and invite unnecessary judgment,” she says.
LikeSo uses voice recognition technology and a fitness tracker approach to train you to avoid poor verbal habits. With two modes—freestyle and speaking prompts—LikeSo tracks and monitors your words and pacing, giving you a score from A+ to Uh Oh!
Two more apps perform a similar function: Ummo (iOS and Android) records your speech and highlights filler words so you can identify areas where you rely on this crutch. And Um Counter (Android) counts the number of times you use the word “um,” so you can determine your stumbling patterns and work on correcting them. You can also personalize Um Counter to recognize words like “okay,” “uh,” and “basically.”
If your problem is stress, there’s an app that will help you relax. Confident Public Speaking (iOS and Android) was created by hypnotherapist David Ridgeway and includes guided meditations to help you calm down before taking the stage. The 10-minute session prompts you to release the anxiety you may have from real or imagined bad experiences. The app also includes video interviews that explain stress, so you can better understand and use it to improve your speaking.
Forgetting What You’re Going to Say
If you are afraid you are going to freeze and forget what you are going to say, Prompster Pro (iOS and Android) is an app that can help. It turns a smartphone or tablet into a teleprompter so you no longer have to fumble with notecards or a faulty memory. Create or import a document, and then set the app to scroll the words, personalizing the speed and font size.
Having Too Little Or Too Much To Say
If you’ve watched TED Talks, you’ve seen that clock at the foot of the stage that tells speakers how long they’ve been on stage. SpeakerClock is an app (iOS) that does the same thing. This app helps you master your timing so you don’t ramble on too long or speak too fast. Presentation Timer Pro (Android) is another timer app. It also silences your ringer so a call doesn’t interrupt your presentation.
English Isn’t Your First Language
If English isn’t your first language and you’re afraid this will be apparent in your speech, Orai (iOS) is an app that provides you with instant feedback. It gives a report on your clarity, use of filler words, pace, and vocal energy. The app was created by Drexel University engineering students Danish Dhamani and Paritosh Gupta.
“The one thing we had in common is that English was not our first language,” Dhamani tells Fast Company. “Paritosh grew up in India. I was born in Pakistan, but my family moved to Tanzania when I was very young, so I was raised in Africa. When we came to the U.S., it was hard, from job interviews to networking events, talking in front of groups of people.”
Orai includes vocal exercises to perform for a few minutes a day to help train and improve your speaking habits. It also includes speaking prompts that are graded and provide feedback.
“Public speaking is like going to the gym. You can’t go once and get bigger biceps—you have to train on a consistent basis,” says Dhamani.