You are not alone if talking to large groups of people terrifies you. But Eastside resident and public speaking coach Marianna de Fazio says it doesn’t have to be that way.

Marianna de FazioLast year, Chapman University researchers asked more than 1,500 Americans what their biggest fears were. Nearly 26 percent cited public speaking — more so than losing a job, becoming seriously ill, or even dying.

Marianna de Fazio, a Kirkland resident and public speaking coach who has worked with Microsoft, Tableau, Wunderman, and the Bellevue School District — as well as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals on a one-on-one basis — can help to calm those nerves. She’s an expert in eliminating stage fright and creating assured public speakers.

“I do think people often come to me, and they don’t know what to expect,” said de Fazio, 37, who believes people often are just as wary about asking for help from a speaking coach as they are loading a PowerPoint presentation and standing in front of a room of strangers.

“Some people are very apprehensive to work with a coach and don’t know what that is going to entail. But once we are at ease and we have a rapport, then I can help them to kind of soar. And I think they have a lot more fun than they thought they would have. If someone goes from apprehensive to enjoying speaking, that is the biggest turnaround. I have seen that happen, even within a one-hour session.”

De Fazio came to her profession by way of the theater. She grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, graduated from St. Louis University with degrees in German studies and theater; and moved to Austria after earning a Fulbright scholarship. When the scholarship ended after two years, she remained in Austria and spent the next three years as an ensemble member of an English-speaking theater, and working part-time as an English language tutor.

By 2007, she had returned to Seattle and was attending the University of Washington to earn a master’s degree from the Professional Actor Training Program. During that time, she noticed some of her peers and teachers had side jobs coaching the corporate world on public speaking. It made sense, considering acting and public speaking share many skills, such as memorization and enunciation. Today, de Fazio helps people shed their public speaking fears and command a confident stage presence during corporate conferences, staff presentations, or media interviews.

De Fazio discussed some common fears associated with public speaking, her work helping local employees improve their verbal chops, and the pros and cons of TED Talks.

Is public speaking difficult, or do people make it more difficult than it is?

Absolutely, it is difficult. I don’t want to undercut that. But a lot of that is just learned fears: If it’s scary, then I must be scared. If everyone else is scared, then I must be scared, too. But sometimes it’s about more than actually being nervous getting up and standing in front of people. It goes back to people feeling stupid and not wanting to feel judged or incompetent. There are techniques for that, too. Try to imagine that the audience is on your side, that it’s not you versus them. Also, acknowledge that you have achieved something, even if you get up and all you do is mumble for a few minutes. You still did it, and there is achievement in that. That’s where the coaching almost becomes cheerleading. That’s a huge part of it — aside from the teaching, just making people feel like they are enough and they don’t have to apologize for standing up in front of people, and giving them a safe space in which to practice and try new things.

Are there some people who are uncoachable?

I think everybody can feel confident getting up (and speaking in public). Not everybody is going to enjoy it. If the bar is getting to a point where you don’t hate it or you don’t want to die afterward, then that is fine. But I think everybody can get to the point where they can stand in front of people and not feel awful. It’s not magic, and breaking into learnable techniques is where I come in. It’s interesting because people self-edit and self-analyze pretty well. They tell me all these things to look out for — I’m not a good speaker. I speak too quickly. I don’t make any sense — and I tell them that’s not really true. People are afraid of looking stupid, looking like they don’t know the subject matter, or looking incompetent. That is what makes people so often rush through the whole thing. They think that moment of hanging silence is going to mean they are stupid. Of course, it doesn’t mean that.

When a company, such as Microsoft, hires you, how does that process begin, and what sort of services do you provide?

The managers and administrators at Microsoft will tell me, “There is a conference (and) our engineers are not (public) speakers, but they are going to be speaking. As a perk, we will give them one-on-one coaching to help them get up to speed so that they feel comfortable standing in front of 200 people or more and talking about this subject.”

Now, they may know the subject and be really familiar with it. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into speaking in front of people.

I can talk (to them) about clarity of message. Maybe the order of their slides — even the order of their storytelling — doesn’t make sense. That is something that I can help with. There is so much to do with moving or not moving, the benefit of stillness versus the benefit of how to move and when to move. There are certain times when it is more effective to move. And there are things like: Are you going to script it or write bullet points? Are you going to write it out at all? What is the benefit in doing that versus not doing that? Can I hear you? Are you breathy? Are you speaking too quickly? Rate of speech is a big one. How can pauses be used effectively to land your point? Until you have learned to use pauses and it becomes a natural thing to use them for emphasis, how can you kind of manipulate, script, and choreograph, so to speak, the pauses? These are just a few different ways to help make your point land more effectively.

What kind of professionals do you typically work with?

I work with people who speak often but need a coach to get to the next level, people who are terrified and just need to get to the first step, keynote speakers or CEOs, or someone who is trying to get their business more known and they are going to these professional development events and they are giving lectures. It really could be anyone at any level.

Right now, I am coaching a health professional who has written a book and is starting to do a lot of interviews on the radio and on television. I’m working with him on a lot of different things because he is doing so much more public speaking than he has ever done before.

What is your impression of TED Talks?

I like TED Talks. I think they are amazing, and they have opened up so much information to all of us. But I also think they have raised the standard of public speaking almost to an unachievable height. Now everybody thinks that they can do that, or that they should be able to do that. That is a good goal, but it’s not necessarily the one and only. That is a huge, huge goal to have for some people. But they’re not all equal. The very best TED Talks, the speakers have worked with a village of coaches. They have had all kinds of people helping from the beginning, from the content creation, and then they have practiced it so many different ways. They are not just walking in and being amazing. They have worked really hard. You can also tell which people have chosen not to work with the coaches.

Do you critique television news anchors or late-night television hosts? Do you ever think they could be really good if they would just do this one thing?

(laughing) No. I think at that level, they are OK. I’m able to turn it off and just be entertained and absorb the information. But there are times when I can’t. I start to just make it an exercise to improve my coaching: If I was coaching this person, here is what I would do.