Susan Jeffers' seminal self-help book “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway” was first published in 1987 . Its messages are just as relevant today and are highly applicable to fear of public speaking. According to a website dedicated to Susan’s work, she identified five truths about fear. This article looks at how we might apply these to a fear of public speaking.
Truth #1 - The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow!
Every time you step outside of your comfort zone you will experience fear. With public speaking this might mean talking to a larger audience, a different audience, or on a different topic. Even the best speakers feel nervous when presenting in a new situation. I recently tried making a video and realised that while I am comfortable speaking to an audience I felt ridiculous talking to a camera – simply because I was not used to it!
Truth #2 - The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and .. do it!
My last post was about the author and TED speaker Susan Cain who had an intense fear of public speaking when she was younger. She said that therapy – i.e. talking about her fear – did not help when it came to her fear of public speaking. She had to start doing it.
I am not aware of any method to manage of fear of public speaking other than doing public speaking. Of course, if you are very nervous you don’t start by giving a presentation to a large audience in a high-stakes situation. You start by finding a safe place to practice, like a Fear-less public speaking course or a Toastmasters club. When you feel comfortable you can gradually extend your comfort zone (but see truth #1 – the fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow!).
Truth #3 - The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out and ..do it!
The reason that practicing public speaking works in a safe environment is so effective is that your confidence grows with every experience. Doing something that you fear makes you feel great afterwards. What Susan Jeffers says is “With each little step you take into unknown territory, a pattern of strength develops.” As you grow in confidence you also grow in competence – which will continue to fuel your self-belief.
Truth #4 - Not only are you afraid when facing the unknown, so is everyone else!
I have written before about how the fear of public speaking is very common. You are not alone! Almost every speaker that you hear and admire and wish you could be like has felt nervous about public speaking at some stage – and possibly still does. Perhaps not everyone has experienced fear as intensely as you feel it. But I can assure you that you are not alone and that there are many others who are terrified and desperately want to rid themselves of the terror.
Truth #5 - Pushing through the fear is less frightening than living with the bigger underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness!
This is the one that resonates with me the most. I have come across so many people who are being held back from doing the things that they really want to do in their lives because they are grappling with a fear of public speaking. Often they go to great lengths to avoid public speaking. Some of them avoid applying for jobs that involve public speaking. Others live in dread of the day that they are going to have to speak to an audience. Many are ashamed of feeling this way. Some just want to be able to speak in a social setting – like a birthday or wedding and feel really disappointed in themselves that they can’t. Some are starting new businesses and turning down great business leads by refusing to speak at seminars take up other opportunities to promote their business. As this ‘fear truth’ suggests, many of these people have an ongoing sense of helplessness. They are desperate for a magic fix, not realising that the magic fix does exist – but it requires doing the thing they dread (see truth #2!).
Prepared by Catherine Syme
I strongly believe that anyone can manage their nerves and become a better public speaker with the right support.