Why do we fear public speaking? Here’s my story

It’s often said that we fear public speaking more than death.  And in many cases, this is genuinely the truth. Why do we fear public speaking?  For many it’s a result of a negative past experience.  For others it’s a fear of making a mistake.  For a few it’s a fear of not knowing your subject matter well enough.  In this post I’m going to tell you what lead me to overcome my fear of public speaking and in this blog I will describe the various strategies that you too can implement to conquer your own fear.  Hopefully you can learn something from my journey that will help you with your own journey to speaking in front of an audience with confidence.

Once upon a time the fears I mentioned above (past negative experiences, fear of making a mistake, fear of not knowing the subject matter well enough) were all true for me.  Every single one of them.  I can still vividly recall my first real experience of public speaking.  I was asked to present on a topic in a Grade 9 Science class at School. I don’t recall what the topic of my talk was however I do remember the insanely intense hot flush I felt as my face turned crimson, I remember my hands shaking uncontrollably, I can feel the sweat droplets forming on my forehead, and I remember barely being able to get the first sentence out of my mouth.  Worse yet, I remember stumbling over my words so that not a single person watching me could understand what I was saying.  To make matters even worse, members of the audience (fellow school “mates” obviously) were snickering at my discomfort not so quietly.

I felt terrible and as soon as I managed to fumble through my talk I rushed back to my desk and did my absolute best to hide my personal shame from everyone for the remainder of the day. And from that point on, I avoided speaking publicly as much as humanly possible.

Over time however, with a little life experience, some training and a lot of practice, I can now confidently say that I no longer fear speaking in front of an audience.  Am I a brilliant and inspirational presenter? Far from it. Do I still get nervous? Absolutely. What I don’t get now however, is that crippling anxiety before a speech. I no longer forget the key messages that I want to communicate when speaking to an audience and most importantly, I actually enjoy speaking to an audience.

By now you probably have a couple of questions; what did I do to manage this fear? And what made me to take action to manage my fear of public speaking?

The reason I took action to conquer my fear of public speaking was quite simple really however it took me quite a few years to reach the point where I felt the need to take action.  I had spent quite a few years after finishing my studies working in mundane jobs that didn’t require a high level of engagement with people or a great deal of brain power.  For many people, there is only so long where you can work in these mundane positions and maintain your sanity.  I had reached that point and needed to take on more challenging work.

I started applying for positions in a variety of industries such as real estate and banks as a test to see what I could achieve with my skill set.  When I failed to obtain any positions in these industries I contacted the HR representative to find out what was holding me back from being given a chance at these roles.  The most common piece of feedback that I received was that I needed to develop my verbal communication skills in order to be successful in these industries.  It was suggested that I practice public speaking in order to develop these skills.  It seems so obvious now that my one key weakness would be the one thing that I had avoided developing all my life.

I took two key learnings from the experience of failing to get any position that would take me away from my mundane existence.  These are:

  • Highly developed communication skills are vital to succeed in a wide variety of careers and can improve many aspects of your life (ever struggled having that all important first conversation with your crush?); and more importantly.
  • Listening to my fears had prevented me from developing skills that would have otherwise opened up a wide range of opportunities in my life.

So, if there is one key take away that you should take away from my experience it is this; if you have a fear of public speaking, now is the time to face that fear. In this blog I will show you how I went about facing and conquering this fear. I am not a genius or an expert, I am also not a millionaire trying to sell you a quick fix solution. I have conquered my fear of public speaking however and it is actually much simpler to do than you probably realise.

There is something much deeper that I learnt while on this journey to conquer my fear of public speaking.  I realised that my fears were preventing me from experiencing all that life has to offer. So this has recently taken me on new a journey develop a list of all my fears and slowly work through conquering this list of fears.

To start with in this blog I will document here how I went about conquering this fear.  Hopefully you can learn from my experience.  Please leave your feedback and insights. I welcome all comments and questions.

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