Shaky hands. A breaking voice. Eyes fixated on the carpet. I see the tell-tale signs of the fear of public speaking all the time in students when they are newcomers to Head Held High classes. But I could just as easily be talking about myself.
It is true that the number one fear amongst people is the fear of public speaking. It’s a common cliche, but if you actually stop and think about that for a second, it makes you appreciate how truly terrifying public speaking can be for most people.
There is a flip side though. There is great confidence to be gained from being that afraid and coming out the other side, and seeing that confidence develop in my students is one of the greatest joys I get in my HHH classes.
I’ll let you in on my ‘timeless way to make friends with fear’ early in this article, so you’re not on the edge of your seat for too long. It’s to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Seems simple? Yes. Heard it before? Probably. But the secret of this tactic is in doing it, not just knowing about it.
I’d like to share a story about my own path to making friends with fear of public speaking…
Years ago when I had just left school I got into standup comedy. Although for me it was never really stand up in the traditional sense. It was more performance art with the central theme being humour.
I loved being on stage and hearing a room full of people laughing. Nothing gave me greater joy. There was also great freedom in it. If I had the audience with me I could do whatever I wanted.
However, that ‘if’ was an almighty big one. Ultimately I had absolutely no idea whether what I had come up with was funny, because it’s very difficult to try jokes out on friends or family and get an idea of how they’ll go in public. So backstage I would be freaking out. In fact, if I knew I had a gig in the future I would be nervous about it for days beforehand.
The nerves would ultimately come to a head when I was backstage. I would hear the MC introduce comedian after comedian. I would be so crippled by nerves that I would just sit still and wait. On the outside I was calm but on the inside, I was a wreck.
Then it would be my turn to wait behind the curtain… my mind wondering why I would ever willingly choose to put myself in such an awful position?!
There is a crowd of people and my job is to make them laugh with material I can’t be sure is funny. I hear the MC introduce my name and then I step on stage…
I have jumped out of a plane three times and the feeling is the same as setting foot on stage. The plane takes off, reaches 30,000 feet, the door opens, the instructor who you’re attached to like a baby edges out of the door.
He asks “are you ready?”. I reply “no” and then he jumps.
Once you’re in the air I’m literally in free fall. It’s exhilarating, scary, terrifying, death-defying even. But there is nothing quite like it.
Whether you’re a seasoned speaking professional or just taking your first steps into public speaking by doing speeches at school, the fear is the same. “What will happen? What will people think of me?”
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”. It’s a statement that’s been around the block many times, but that still holds a lot of truth.
If you are able to feel the fear and resist the urge to run from it, the confidence you will gain is tenfold that of the fear you felt.
Why? Because you come to realise what you are capable of. You grow. You feel ten feet tall.
More importantly, it makes you realise that you can indeed do it. You can feel the fear in your mind, in your body and know in your heart that it can’t hold you back.
Run from fear and you will never know what you are capable of.
Make friends with it and it can be an ally for life.
Brett has worked as an actor, writer, and director in the film and TV industry for over 20 years, and is a former Head Held High teacher.