Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Shy Student Struggles With Public Speaking

DEAR HARRIETTE: I take a weekly public speaking class where we are encouraged to share our work in front of the class. There is one problem: I am terribly shy, and I do not know if I can talk in front of the class. Can you give me some pointers on how to overcome my shyness? -- At a Loss for Words, Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEAR AT A LOSS FOR WORDS: Congratulations on taking a class that will help you face one of your fears. That took a lot of courage.

One thing that will be important for you to remember is that you are taking a class. Your teacher and classmates do not expect you to already be a great public speaker. You are there to learn. Chances are, your classmates are a little skittish, too. Rather than succumbing to your fear, think about the class members as support for one another. Your attitude will help you to have more confidence.

Practice speaking at home in front of a mirror. Stand up straight and tall, with your feet hip-distance apart. Relax your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror and smile. Recite your speech, looking down at your paper momentarily and then looking up and out.

Move from the mirror to your living room. If you live with someone, ask him or her to be your audience. (You also can pretend that people are sitting in empty chairs.) Practice speaking to a room full of "people" and making eye contact as you speak. This will make it easier when you present speeches to your class.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My cellphone apparently pocket-dialed my wife's phone, and my wife heard a conversation I had with a co-worker. I needed to vent to someone who would listen, because I have not had the best relationship with my wife in the past few months.

After my workday, I went home to an angry wife. She was disappointed with me because I told a friend about our problems instead of talking to her first. How can I prevent this from happening again? -- Talk Too Much, Manhattan, N.Y.

DEAR TALK TOO MUCH: Start by apologizing sincerely for upsetting your wife. Explain that it was not your intention to do so, and that you needed to talk out your feelings with someone before talking to her. This is probably something she understands, even if it made her angry. Most people need a friend who is willing to listen when they are upset about something.

To prevent this in the future, start talking to your wife about your issues. Ask if she would be willing to have an honest conversation about the state of your relationship. Explain your concerns in as calm a manner as you can muster. Ask her what she is thinking and feeling.

If you two are able to talk without arguing, keep it going and do your best to address the challenges in your marriage. If you are unable to speak to each other civilly, you may want to seek out a professional to help you. A marriage counselor may be able to guide your conversation and give you tools for more productive communication, especially during difficult times.