Overcoming My Greatest Fear…of Public Speaking

This is a guest post by our friend Jason @ WorkSaveLive on overcoming the fear of public speaking. He really gets the heart of Fearless Men-read about what he’s done to tackle and overcome his greatest fear! If interested in writing a guest post please read our guest posting policy and then contact us.

Make sure to check out our post on Speech Preparation: First Things First if you want to know more about getting ready to be in front of a crowd.

Your voice cracks.

Your hands start to shake.

Those dumb knees start to wobble.

The words you’ve recited hundreds of times escape your mind and you start sweating profusely as panic begins to set in.

The public spotlight has never been my cup of tea. I’m not sure what it is…maybe it’s the fear of being judged, looking like a fool, or not upholding the image that I want people to have of me.

Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar enough with the material I have to present, or worrying that what I have to say won’t be of value to the people I’m speaking to.

Avoid It

The majority of people have at least one fear (if not many). Maybe it’s a fear of heights, spiders, opening a business, snakes, public speaking, social settings, isolation, failing, or even succeeding. Regardless of what it may be, the status quo is to run from those fears, regardless of what it costs you.

While I prefer not to deal with snakes or spiders (other than when I’m stomping on them), there is nothing that gives me more anxiety than being in front of 50+ people. For years I ran from this fear and did everything I could to avoid it. Up until two years ago, the ONLY time I spoke in front of more than 20 people was back in 8th grade – nearly 14 years ago.

I’ve turned down speaking opportunities at my work which may have helped advance my career; I’ve turned down public functions where my presentation could have helped somebody in the crowd or put me in front of a high-profile person. Even when I became a financial advisor, I’d forego doing my own seminars (ones that I paid for) and urged my boss to give the presentation while I merely chimed in for a small portion of it.

I’d find excuse after excuse to get out of speaking functions…all to avoid the greatest fear that I have.fear of public speaking

Running Doesn’t Get You Anywhere

The problem with fear is that we have a choice on whether or not we confront it.

You’ll always be scared of spiders until you realize they can’t really hurt you. You’ll always be scared of heights – and miss out on thrilling adventures like skiing or skydiving – until you realize that you’re not really going to plunge to your death.

The fears we’ve developed are due in large part to ourselves and the mental block we’ve surrounded it with.

The true issue that we have to wrestle with is: what is your fear costing you?

For me the fear of public speaking was standing in my way of developing a much-needed skill in the world that we live in. Regardless of your job, being a great public speaker only adds value to what you bring to the marketplace.

With that in mind, I eventually realized that I had a choice: quit being a baby or continue to stay in my comfort zone while confining myself to the limited possibilities that allowed.

Overcoming My Fear

The more you face your fears, the more comfortable you get with them. Sure, the anxiety may never go away, but once you take a step out of your comfort zone you’ll realize that it wasn’t as bad as you thought.

Last year I started to take over more parts of my financial presentations. While I didn’t like it, I found that the more I prepared my material and the more I spoke, the less it bothered me. I’ll admit that early on my hands would shake during parts of my speech, my mind would go blank, and after the presentation I couldn’t remember a thing that I said.

However, with continual practice and placing myself in those settings, all of that went away.

While I’ve never handled a 2-hour presentation on my own, I was recently invited to give a budgeting and debt workshop to anywhere from 50-200 people (we’re still not sure how many will show up). When asked to run the workshop, my immediate response was “You’re out of your mind. No way I’m interested in doing that.”

It’s funny that my initial reaction was to run even though I’ve been speaking in front of medium-sized groups for over a year now. Without a doubt, overcoming the psychological walls we’ve spent years (sometimes decades) building is a daunting challenge and the only way to tear them down is to tackle them one brick at a time.

After again reminding myself that I have a choice as to whether or not I confront my fear, I accepted the invitation to handle the workshop on my own. Whether or not I perform well is beside the point; the most important part is that I’ve learned you can do whatever you set your mind to.

8 Quick Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

1. Join a group such as Toastmasters and/or practice in a private setting. Consider videotaping yourself or record the presentation on a voice recorder. Speak in front of a few friends, family members, or your spouse. It may be awkward, but that’s a good thing!

2. When practicing, always speak out loud. Your own voice will sometimes scare you and only reciting it in your head won’t help nearly as much.

3. Write out the whole presentation. Many seasoned speakers don’t need a script, but don’t be scared to create one for practicing purposes. Bring it with you to a presentation, but if you’ve recited it enough you’ll learn that you won’t need it.

4. Highlight key words or transitions. While I no longer write a complete script, I will write large bullet points (and sub points) on a piece of paper that I carry with me during my presentation. As I’ve learned to master the material, if I get stuck all I need to do is look down to find where I am in the presentation and that will be enough to jog my memory.

5. As you get started, don’t make eye contact. Granted, you don’t want to be staring at the ceiling, but instead of looking at audience members directly in the eye, look at their forehead. They won’t know the different and you won’t get distracted.

6. Try to use an icebreaker or engage the audience. Tell a joke (as long as it’s funny) and/or ask the audience a question as you get started. Allow there to be silence if nobody answers and encourage somebody to speak up. Engaging the audience is one of the best ways to get the attention off of you and allow you to feel a little more comfortable.

7. Focus on voice inflections and pauses. It’s okay to pause when you want a point to sink in. Don’t be scared of momentary silence.

8. Don’t be scared to fail. If the first speaking attempt bombs, give it another try. I promise, you’ll only get better with each attempt you make.

Make sure to check out our post on Speech Preparation: First Things First if you want to know more about getting ready to be in front of a crowd!

Jason is a financial advisor and Dave Ramsey-trained counselor that blogs over at WorkSaveLive. He aims to educate his readers on a variety of financial topics while sharing his family’s journey out of debt.

Comments

  1. Great post Jason! I struggle with this fear as well and always have. Running our own business though has helped me have to deal with this fear more head on and try to work on it. My wife and I were actually talking about this last night for our children. We want to find opportunities for our children to be engaged in public speaking so it becomes natural for them as they grow.

    • That’s a great idea! It’s interesting as I see my friend’s children and you wonder how some can be so out-going whereas others are very nervous around people and try to avoid public interaction as much as possible.

      We can all overcome fear, especially at a young age, but it has to be coached and worked on consistently. If you can teach your kids how to overcome any fear of public speaking (or engaging in with large groups) then they’ll be well ahead of the curve!

  2. Todd Mayfield says:

    Jason thanks for writing this! Great content that’s right in line with Fearless Men!

  3. I would agree 100% with joining a group such as Toastmasters. I joined a business group a few years ago that required a short speech each week and a larger presentation every couple of months. I won’t say I ever loved it, but I have no problem speaking in front of people now.

    • Todd Mayfield says:

      Public speaking isn’t for everyone, but I know developing it makes every presentation better. Even the presentations only to an audience of one! Glad to hear you don’t have problems with speaking in front of people now!

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