How I conquered my fear of public speaking
It was a Thursday afternoon. I remember looking out the window, seeing the rain poring down and wondering how life could just continue as per normal for the people outside. Because normal was nothing I felt. I was standing behind a stage at a conference center asking my self why. Why had I agreed to do this, stand in front of over 300 people, convincing them that my strategy was the right strategy and I was the one who was going to lead them? Why? I was cursing my cocky “fake it till you make it” attitude that up till this point had convinced me that I could do this. Sweat was coming down my neck as I could hear my name being called to the stage. I remember taking the first step on to the stage, seeing the audience looking at me. Then everything went black.
I now know that the anxiety that I felt that day, many of us feel. Some say they fear it more then death, others that they rather turn down a promotion then standing up in front of an audience. Studies show that it’s not only making a speech that gets our hands sweaty, it’s any time we present new ideas in front of other people, being it a project meeting, a team workshop or even a dinner event.
The fear of failure, rejection and being humiliated stops many of us from following our dreams. We convince ourselves that “The dream doesn’t really matter”, “I’m an introvert anyway” or “That job is not so important”.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately public speaking is a skill not a gift. You can learn and you can recover from your fear of speaking. I know. I did.
The shift – finding my advisor
Back to that conference center, a rainy Thursday afternoon. I still to this day have no memory of my presentation. What I do remember is my hart pumping, hands so sweaty they could barley hold the microphone and words coming out of my month at the speed of light.
But when I’d said the final “Thank you” and moved back to safety behind the stage, my then manager came up to me and said something that would change everything. It’s not so much what she said, it’s more how she said it. She grabbed both my arms and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know your subject and you have a great personality, what you need now is to let go of your fear and learn how to let your personality shine through. I’ll help you”.
“Let go of your fear and learn how to let
your personality shine through.”
She then introduced me to great speakers to learn from, sent me to public speaking courses, gave me constant feedback and most importantly she pushed me into situations where I had to practice and improve my skills.
I didn’t see it then but over the years I’ve realized how much she as my advisor gave me; with pep talks, tough love and believe in me she changed me and ultimately helped me to let go of my fear of standing in front of an audience.
Being myself, trusting my knowledge & knowing the audience
A few years ago I got my very first invitation to speak at an event on the very subject of “Public speaking” and my journey of loosing my fear of it. And all of a sudden the fear was back in full force – hand sweat and all. All negative thoughts came back and again I was convinced that I was the worst speaker in the world.
But then I remembered one of the most important things to know to be able to let go of your fear – thinking your poor speaker, makes you a poor speaker. Telling yourself you’re a good speaker gives you not only more confidence but also the positive attitude you need to be open to the preparation and practice that is needed to become a great speaker.
It has taken me a long time to be comfortable on a stage. But for every time I deliver a presentation it feels easier and more natural. I have learned that being nervous isn’t always a bad thing and can be used as a fuel.
Finding people I trust to give me feedback has, together with positive thinking and practice, empowered me to stand confident on a stage.
It has taught me the importance of being myself, trusting my knowledge and knowing my audience and the room I speak in to be able to leave my fear of public speaking in the past.
Maybe you can too? Send me an email and let me know what your fears are and we can together make a plan for how to overcome them now.