I've been practicing public speaking at a club for a while now. Although I'm still nervous when I speak in front of an audience, its not nearly as bad as when I first started. (I almost had a panic attack with my first speech.) Here are some things about public speaking that became more obvious to me:
-Public speaking is a monologue where you express a continuous train of thought without any response from the audience.
-You talk to an audience the same way you talk to a few people.
-Proper body language during a speech is not natural and must be learned and practiced.
-Engagement with the audience can make or break your speech, regardless of your content.
Of course its easier said than done! I used to think that public speaking was 95% mental, and 5% physical. But I've learned that proper movements and body language accounts for a large part of your speech as well- more like 60% mental, and 40% physical. I've come a VERY long ways from where I was (avoiding and contemplating suicide) over making speeches. But I encourage everyone to join a speaking class or club like Toastmasters, that would allow you to gain the confidence and learn the proper techniques as well.
I'm glad Toastmasters is working out for you! I am also a firm believer that "exposure" to anxiety-provoking situations helps kickstart our road to recovery. It can be very tough at first, like it was with you, but in the long run things definitely start to improve.
I had taken a required Speech course last year for my college. All my time in school, public speaking terrified me and I would avoid it at all costs, even getting suicidal sometimes because I simply couldn't do them. My SA was so severe, so I was beyond nervous taking the Speech course. I ended up going through a manic phase at the time though (Bipolar), and that made me extremely lucky, as in mania I don't have SA, I actually go the opposite and become extroverted. That's not to say that I wasn't freaking out about it, but it gave me a chance to notice things and learn things about public speaking without suffering too much panic.
I haven't had to do a speech since that class, so I'm not sure how what I learned would carry over now that I'm back to my socially anxious self. How I got through it was becoming as knowledgeable about my topic as possible, so that the information would flow out of me instead of me having to try to "remember" it. I practiced my speech over and over, so that I didn't have to glance at my note cards that frequently. As you said, the body movements and trying to engage the audience is a huge part of it. So, after I got my speech down and was confident in my statements - that let me focus more on trying to engage the audience. I did that by making eye contact with a few people here and there, smiling a lot, and trying my best to look calm and comfortable up there. Of course it's not easy to look comfortable or confident..
I remember when I took a public speaking class two years ago, I was completely miserable. It was required for my major, but I did really poorly (but still scraped a C) in most of it, because I was unable to speak properly. I would get up there and blubber.
The few times I was able to give a proper speech was when I was talking about something I was passionate about, and didn't have to rely on cue cards. The two speeches I gave on music, for example. The speech I gave on Cincinnati, however, was awful, and I almost wet myself trying to get through the anxiety.