The #1 fear of most Americans is public speaking. I know this through numerous public speaking courses--although now that I think about it, they may have had an agenda. If it's true, personally I think it says more about a lack of imagination on the part of the pollster than anything else. I can think of six or seven scarier things just off the top of my head. But I watch a lot of horror movies. If we rule out over-elaborate scenarios better suited for Saw IV (franchise motto: "We're Se7en for people who hate plot, or character, or movies."), public speaking probably does top the list of rational fears.
I never really had a problem with public speaking. While I was in college chasing down a degree in Communication, I spent two years on the Mason forensics team (not autopsy forensics, but speech forensics--the common term refers to a logical process of explanation). College forensics has two national-level tournaments per year. Although I didn't get very far my first year on the team, in my second I placed in the semifinals (top 12) for persuasive speaking at AFA Nationals and the quarterfinals (top 24) for extemporaneous and impromptu speaking at NFA Nationals. Like most opportunities in college, this probably sounds more impressive than it is. And it doesn't sound that impressive.
Regardless, one of the reasons that I started this blog was to add to the overall knowledge base of the Internet in some small way. I hope that people might be helped in some small way with their problems when they stumble onto Mile Zero--I got a lot of positive feedback for my tutorials on Electroplankton, for example, and (oddly enough) I get a steady trickle of trackbacks after interviewing and writing about the ucus.us script spammer. I'm always looking for something else to write about that way, but I'm young and not yet an expert in very many areas. A while back I had lunch with an old friend from the team, and I realized that maybe I could write up some of my experiences so that other people could benefit from them. As a typical comm student, I was always better at talking about how to do things than necessarily doing them. If I can help just a few people knock their top fear down a few notches, that can be my good deed for today. I also feel like I need to preserve my lessons learned from those experiences, before I forget them. I use many of these skills every day at my job, some more than others, and I think they are valuable to distribute.
So over the next couple of weeks I'm going to write a series of short takes on how to write for speech and present that writing effectively. These are not definitive--feel free to disagree--but I'll be trying to cover what I think are the essentials, and where I see most people trip up. My current plans are for four entries (writing for speech, structure, delivery, and improvisation), but I'm open to suggestions for others if anyone has any ideas, and I may uncover new topics as I go along.