While researching this topic, I came across a comment in an online forum.
“I put on my first parent seminar this week. I was so terrified I almost cancelled! But I got over myself because I know parents are a bit desperate about how to help their boys and girls build a strong, positive body image (in our weight-obsessed culture).”
I contacted Emma, who was behind this comment. She suffered from an eating order as a child. She now helps parents to ensure their children have a healthy attitude towards eating and body image.
Emma told me that she was making plans to cancel her seminar right up to just before it started! But she went ahead, and it was a huge success. 100% of the attendees signed up to follow her e-course. As she spoke, she felt her nervousness evaporate because she realised people were listening and engaged!
For Emma, her message was more powerful than her fear. The desire to share something that she believed in, eclipsed her terror.
And Emma is not alone. History has many examples of people who were able to put aside their fear of public speaking because they had an important message. One of these was Mahatma Gandhi, who had panic attacks as a student and was still terrified of public speaking when he became a lawyer. Apparently, he ran out of the courtroom during his first case! Eventually, his desire to see a free India overrode his anxieties and fears.
Susan Cain’s TED talk has been viewed over 25 million times, but Susan once suffered from a crippling fear of public speaking.
She quit her career as a lawyer to write. After writing her first book, “Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that won’t stop talking,” she decided to do someone about her fear.
In this brilliant interview with Tim Ferris, she explains that she had something to say that she “really, really, really cared about.” She didn’t want her fear to get in the way of sharing her message. Like Emma, she says that she is now able to shift the focus away from being nervous about being judged to how she might be helping someone.
Let’s take a closer look at why finding your message will help you find your voice.
In the season five finale of Peaky Blinders, Thomas (who is now an MP) is talking to Winston Churchill. Winston says, “You speak beautifully in the House.” “And believe not a word of what you are saying.” Thomas responds, “Conviction introduces emotion, which is the enemy of oratory.”
We have all come across people who can talk convincingly about things they know or care little about! But they are the exception. Most people are only convincing when they genuinely care.
Typically, the advice for people who suffer from a fear of public speaking is about being well prepared, learning relaxation methods, and learning better technique.
These are all important, but this article offers a different angle. Focus on what you feel strongly about. And if you don’t know what that is yet, keep looking. The first step to finding your voice is finding your message.
Article written by Catherine Syme
Updated and revised, September 2020.
Enjoyed this article? Fear-less is developing an online course that you can do in your own time. It is for people with a fear of public speaking who want to increase their confidence and competence, and who are unable or not ready to attend a public speaking course. It includes videos, training materials, and daily speaking exercises that will help prepare you for speaking to an audience. It will be available in 2021. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.