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Stay Calm: Three Books To Squelch Stage Fright

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Stay Calm: Three Books To Squelch Stage Fright

Stay Calm: Three Books To Squelch Stage Fright

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For many people, nothing is more terrifying than these two words: public speaking. So many people, in fact, that Toastmasters, the nonprofit dedicated to teaching public speaking, boasts more than a quarter of a million members worldwide.

Writer Mary Kate Cary experiences the same stage fright, but she has this advice on how to overcome it. It's for our series Three Books, where authors recommend three books on one theme.

MARY KATE CARY: We've all been there. You're at a family event, a business conference, even a PTA meeting, when the person in charge catches your eye while people are still milling about.

Can I call on you to say a few words?

If you're like me, your hands are sweating just hearing that sentence. But if you're one of the millions of Americans who now own an iPad, Kindle or other e-reader, you need to load these three books on it to have with you at all times.

A speechwriter to five presidents and a Churchill expert, author James C. Humes is renowned for his book "Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln." It's full of clever stories that have a point. In the book, he gives tips from greats ranging from Napoleon to Thatcher - examples showing how to use props like reading glasses and letters from the mail, statistics and even acknowledgments to great effect.

Having the classic Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" is good, but having Bartlett's "Book of Anecdotes" is even better. Along with safe bets like Yogi Berra, Mark Twain and Will Rogers, you'll find anecdotes about folks from all walks of life - ancient, modern, young and old, from Socrates to Zsa Zsa Gabor - indexed by name as well as by topic. If you're talking to car dealers, look under Henry Ford and you'll find a great selection. If you're speaking at a literacy fundraiser, you can find about a dozen stories on ignorance. Sometimes, that's all you need to get rolling.

Plenty of inspiration can be found in "The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry" because unlike many other poetry books, it's not only indexed by author and title, it's arranged creatively by theme. This is the singing of our tribe, called out across the noisy business of daily life, writes editor Christopher Burns as he introduces the best of 500 years worth of American and English poets, as well as translations from Sanskrit, Russian and Japanese. Need rehearsal dinner remarks? Try "I Dwell in Possibility" by Emily Dickinson. Eulogy for a friend? Flip to the chapter entitled "Death Be Not Proud." Need a shot of courage on the way to the podium? Chant the Indian song: I shall prosper, I shall yet remain alive. I promise you'll survive.

Beware of joke books for speakers: They're usually not indexed and worse, not funny. Witty, historically accurate stories are far better than telling a joke in a speech. They're less risky in terms of getting a chuckle. Plus, they make you look well-read and charming. Same with poetry. When your own words come slowly, these three books will get you there, so that like William Ernest Henley in the poem "Invictus," you too can say: In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Instead, you can say: I just gave a great speech on really short notice.

BLOCK: Mary Kate Cary was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She now writes a column on politics for U.S. News & World Report.

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