A long time ago, when I first began my journey, someone said to me, “You need to accept your anxiety about public speaking.” I simply did not understand. I had been fighting and avoiding it for 20 years! Many years after that, I heard another idea in regards to public speaking: “What’s the worst that can happen? You will remain stuck where you are or worse”. Once again, this made no sense to me. Please allow me to explain.
When you put yourself out there to face your fear, you are likely thinking the worst-case scenario will happen. This fear then prevents any action at all or a bad reaction to the feared situation, regardless of how well you do. Ask yourself, “Is this fear actually protecting me? Is it telling me the truth? What am I really afraid of?” Tell yourself, “I hear you, you are trying to protect me, thank you, but I just want to let you know, that we’re going to be okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
It’s healthy to be afraid of a moving car on the freeway if you’re walking – in that situation, fear will keep you safe. But in most other situations, fear is no longer necessary, and is very detrimental; it can prevent us from doing what we are meant to do in our lives.
It comes down to this: Fear is an unpleasant emotion, a feeling of discomfort. That means that most of us are afraid of an unpleasant emotion, not the actual situation (such as speaking or performing) that we think we are so terrified of. Most of us are afraid to FEEL our emotions. When we’re afraid to feel difficult emotions, we avoid doing many things.
Everything worth doing, everything worth growing for is going to have unpleasant emotions. Are you familiar with the term “growing pains”? If you’re afraid of uncomfortable feelings, you’re never going to do that thing that you really want to do. Fear is the reason we need courage. Courage doesn’t exist without fear. Courage is the character trait. We want to develop it. We can’t if we don’t expose ourselves to fear.
This means it’s crucial to face your fear so that you can utilize your courage to move through it. Don’t resist the fear and pretend it’s not there – instead accept it, and move forward. That’s what courage is. When you move towards fear, open yourself up to it, you still feel the anxiety, it’s still unpleasant, but you get to release the resistance, see that it’s not as bad as you thought it was, and you get to feel proud of yourself for taking action!
What’s the worst thing that can happen? It doesn’t go as well as you had hoped? That’s better than taking no action, although you might temporarily be back to square one with an unpleasant emotion, perceiving it as a “failure”, but you will gain self-respect and confidence for making an effort regardless of the outcome.
How will you feel doing nothing at all, avoiding? STUCK.
Fear means that you’re a human – that you evolved with fear in order to protect yourself and it’s no longer serving you. Fear is a natural part of the human experience, embrace it, let it be part of your experience but do not let it hold you back.
What if you weren’t afraid of the emotion of fear? How would your life be different?
How will you begin to approach it? How about a hierarchy?
Here is an example similar to mine when I first started facing my fear of public speaking:
• Look online for a forum or a private Facebook group with people that share the same fear.
• Find a local support group or a group in general that focuses on speaking or performing. Look on Meetup.com.
• Visit your local Toastmasters club (many are often posted on Meetup.com) and do brief impromptu speaking
exercises, called “Table Topics”. Membership is usually not required to do Table Topics.
• Find a workshop or conference that focuses only on the FEAR of public speaking. (Hmmm… I’m drawing a blank on
where to find this resource 😉 )
Then take it out into the “real world”:
• Contribute in a work, academic, or volunteer meeting. Ask a question or a statement. Increase the
participation at each meeting.
• Volunteer to facilitate a meeting if an opportunity is available; if not, create your own (e.g., a new idea
or project to take a leadership role).
• Join Toastmasters and start giving speeches. It’s usually easier to start here than in the “real world” if
you find the right club for you. Explore different clubs if possible.
• Offer to do more at work, school or in your community that involves you taking on a leadership role and
speaking or performing.
This may seem overwhelming at first, but in small steps, your confidence will build and your fear will fade.
“But, I’ve done the Toastmaster’s thing, 10 speeches; why am I still afraid?” It’s all about the mindset and how you think.
Want to more ideas? Read the In The Spotlight books, blogs and more.