As a professional speaker, I am privileged to stand in front of audiences ranging in size from ten to one hundred to one thousand. Frequently I am introduced by the client host or the sponsor of the event, and am sadly surprised to see how many people tremble under the gaze of a few hundred other people. In fact, it’s been said that public speaking is the number one social phobia. Invariably I am approached by audience members at the end of all of my presentations asking “I’m scared of speaking in public; how do I overcome this fear?”
Most people forget where their fears originated. They likely stood in front of a class of snickering children when they were ten, delivering a speech in English class, and were laughed at. That embarrassment was filed away in their memory banks. Now, they are thirty-five, standing at the board room table and feeling themselves growing ill. And in response, most people want to run and hide, and avoid ever speaking in public again.
There is one time-tested antidote to any fear, and that is to take action and do the thing that you fear. I have a rule in my life: whatever I am scared to do, as long as it is legal, moral, safe and aligned with my goals… I MUST do it. I will not allow fear to take root in my brain.
Please don’t misunderstand; there are things that I fear. Just this week I had to make a series of very important sales calls, and I found that I was putting them off. Why? I realized I was afraid that the people would say “no” to my proposal. My fear was largely due to the fact that there were only three people in existence who could say “yes”, and if they turned my proposal down, I would be out of luck!
What did I do? I acknowledged that fear was holding me back. I set a written goal to contact these three critical people. I showed my written goal to my wife and friends. I announced on the morning of that I was going to make the calls. I wrote out a script for what I would say, and practiced it several times. I visualized the three people, each happy to hear from me, and each responding enthusiastically to my proposal. I dialed the numbers. And one said “maybe”, and two immediately said “yes”.
I make a habit of doing things that would scare other people: public speaking, skydiving, mountain climbing, white-water rafting, competing on stage in fitness contests… I have worked deliberately to build up a library of experiences in my mind where I have faced fearful situations and come through unscathed. By forcing myself into uncomfortable situations, I am toughening up my mental muscles for the moments when I must summon courage. This strategy has worked for me, and I am confident it will work for you. Do the things you fear and watch your fear wither away.