How do you feel about public speaking? Do you feel nauseous just at the thought of it? I get it, trust me.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on public speaking was this: “Speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing. Number two was death. Death was number two?! This means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
I would have preferred to be in the casket. One of the many fears I had growing up was of public speaking. I couldn’t do it. Or, at least I convinced myself I couldn’t do it.
In school, my stomach would churn and my hands would get sweaty at the mere mention of a speaking assignment. You could find me in the bathroom, nauseous and shaking before a presentation. Once I got to the front of the room, I was drenched in sweat and my knees were knocking together.
Then, late in my 20s, something happened. I started working for someone who believed I could do it and wasn’t interested in excuses. He threw me in the deep end of the pool, forcing me to speak at conferences. I still spent a lot of time in the bathroom, but it was now impossible to avoid my fear.
Over the years, I made a lot of mistakes and embarrassed myself a few times, but I kept stepping up to speak. Before long, I grew to love it.
The journey to becoming comfortable with speaking has been on my mind a lot this week, and I want to help you make this transition, too.
How would your life change if you were finally free of the crippling anxiety? Would you open yourself up to doing new things? Would you get a promotion?
Last Monday, I delivered a workshop called, “Public Speaking for the Faint-hearted.” It was easy to see that most in the audience felt that same nervousness you and I both know. “I really don’t want to be here,” they were thinking. “Don’t ask me to go to the front of the room.”
We did some exercises to put them at ease, and then I started throwing them into the deep end of the pool. They were great. Every single one of them.
And by the end of the day, they learned four critically important things about public speaking that will also help you:
1. It’s always about the audience.
To get what we want from an audience, we have to first give them what they want. They want an authentic performance. They want to be persuaded, informed, entertained, and inspired. They’re looking for connection, not perfection. When we put our ego to the side and focus on the needs of the audience, fear has a funny way of subsiding.
2. You will make mistakes, and you will feel embarrassed.
Most people who are afraid of public speaking are really just afraid of making mistakes and looking silly. They’re worried about what people will think of them. But it’s through mistakes and embarrassment that we learn and improve. It’s a necessary evil on the road to realizing your potential and living your dreams. You may not even realize that people are impressed you had the guts to get up there at all. They certainly don’t want to be the ones doing it.
3. People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.
Your fear that people will think less of you because of a poor performance is misplaced. People think about you much less than you assume they do. Audience members have their own lives, their own concerns, and their own fears. In fact, they want you to succeed so they can get what they came for.
4. Tomorrow is another opportunity to do it better.
Like every other kind of learning, you can’t get proficient at public speaking overnight. It’s a process of success and failure. After each performance you get to review, assess, make changes, and do it again. In no time, you’ll be a much better speaker than you were on that first day. Don’t beat yourself up—know that everyone has to give some not-so-hot presentations.
If you spend your time comparing yourself to other speakers, you’ll only increase your anxiety. Being a great speaker takes practice. The people you love hearing talk weren’t always so good.
Use these four ideas to start shifting your mindset around getting up in front of the room. Do your best to stay focused on how things will change when you make this shift.