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First Person

Getting over the fear of public speaking

Curry College professor Katherine Morrison talks about her role in <i>Speak,</i> a new documentary on the search for the world’s best public speaker.

The documentary that features Katherine Morrison (pictured) will be released on DVD Tuesday. One of its filmmakers, Brian Weidling, is an Emerson graduate.Tamir Kalifa/Boston Globe

Some people come out of the womb fantastic speakers; the rest of us need a little help. I WAS ACTUALLY A VERY SHY CHILD. The first time I got up to teach a class, I was 22. I thought I was going to vomit. When I was living in Atlanta, I gave a presentation. I was horrible. A woman walked up to me and said, “You have potential — but you need a lot of help.” She introduced me to Toastmasters.

I rejoined when I moved to Boston. People told me, “YOU HAVE A CHANCE AT THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP.” It took me four tries. Speak is a documentary that follows competitors to the 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking. My speech, “Baby, Don’t Believe Them,” was about my journey from low self-esteem to the college professor you see now.


People love the story of the hero, someone who overcomes overwhelming odds to be a self-assured person. EVERYBODY FACES ADVERSITY; those that can weave that in a story come out on top in Toastmasters. What you see [in the film] are those who have gone through the process and developed that confidence. Few come to Toastmasters already confident public speakers; the majority come with zero skills.

The dread of public speaking absolutely makes sense to me; it’s THE FEAR YOU’RE GOING TO RUB PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY or make yourself look like a complete idiot. Now, when I get up to speak to my classes at Curry College, there’s no twinge of fear whatsoever, but if it’s a fresh, new audience, or particularly large, there’s still a little bit of that. The one thing people want to do is practice. Too many people think they can wing it. I guarantee you, your mind is going to go blank.

— As told to Melissa Schorr