Have you made a New Year’s resolution to ‘do something’ about your fear of public speaking? That’s fantastic! You won’t regret it. Read this article to find out how to keep this resolution!
You probably felt great (even euphoric!) when you made a decision that this is the year that you will tackle your fear of public speaking. But that feeling might be short lived as you realise you now have to do something….
A New Year’s resolution is a promise to yourself to do something about an aspect of your life that you are not satisfied with. Statistics tell us that most of us do not follow through New Year’s resolutions. However, by staying focused and being aware of three traps, you can fulfil your promise to yourself.
Trap one – Procrastination
Tackling a fear of public speaking takes time and dedicated focus. Most public speaking courses have 5-8 sessions over several weeks, and if you have decided to join Toastmasters instead that is a long-term commitment. Obviously it is important not to sign up for a course if you can’t attend most of the sessions but remember there will be no perfect time. You will always find a reason why the current timing is not great (weather is too nice, busy time of year at work, can’t really afford it right now, too close to Christmas etc..) You may simply need to prioritise this for a few weeks over other things in your life.
If you have decided to do a course I recommend doing it as early in the year as you can manage. That way you won’t leave it too late and be tempted to put it off for yet another year.
If money is a problem I suggest talking to your manager (if you are in paid employment). Public speaking is an important skill to have in many jobs and it should be part of your professional development. Many people don’t want to admit to a fear of public speaking but you may find your manager very supportive. In addition to paying they could even give you the time off work so you can do a course during the day.
Trap two – Talking yourself out of it
Once you start to research your options, the initial euphoria may wear off and reality will hit you (I am actually going to have to do this!!) and you may be tempted to change your mind. Your internal dialogue might go something like this. “Everyone on the course will probably be better than me. It might not work for me. Public speaking is not really that important – I have avoided it so far and I can probably continue to do so.”
Recognise this as your ‘inner critic’ speaking! Tara Mohr in her book ‘Playing Big’ warns us that our inner critic will always work very hard to keep us safe. To get better at public speaking you will need to move outside your comfort zone (gradually and while you are well supported) but your inner critic will warn you that this is risky and/or dangerous and will work very hard to keep firmly inside your comfort zone where you can’t fail or make a fool of yourself.
If you recognise thoughts like this, set aside some time to reason with your inner critic. Recognise that doing something about your fear of public speaking will challenge you but start by asking yourself “what is the worst than can happen?”. Rather than imagining and catastrophising, write it down.
Perhaps your worst fear is that the course will be stressful and terrifying, that it won’t work and that you will waste a lot of money! But there are things that you can do to minimise the likelihood your worst fears becoming a reality.
Review this list then write down what you are going to do to help ensure that your worst fears are not realised.
You also need to balance your fears with “what is the worst than can happen if I don’t do a course.” This is different for everyone but the chances are that you will always regret not doing something about a fear of public speaking. Or perhaps you prefer to put it more positively. "What is the best that could happen if I follow through on my resolution?"
What is the worst that can happen if I don’t act?
What is the best that can happen if I do act?
I recommend doing both. Although the lists are similar one list is likely to trigger emotions such as fear and despair while the other list may trigger emotions such as relief and joy and it is hard to know which you will react most strongly to. For example if you decide that failure to act could limit your career opportunities you might quickly leap to “well that’s not so bad because what I am doing is OK” whereas if you imagine the career opportunities it could open up this might really excite you.
Once you have made up your mind that you are ready to act you need to decide what type of course or programme you are going to do (if you have not already done so).
Broadly there are two choices. You can join something like Toastmasters which requires ongoing commitment, or you can do a short course (or both).
If you have decided to do a course, pick one that suits your aims. If your aim is to reduce a fear of public speaking you must choose a course that has a practical component. Most do, but there are observation-only courses which are great for picking up advanced technique tips but not for dealing with nervousness. Fear-less specialises in courses for people whose main aim is to address a fear of public speaking.
Registering for a course will set you well on your way to achieving your New Year’s resolution. I find that very few people withdraw from a course once they have paid their deposit!
Trap three – giving up!
You have set aside the time, calmed your inner critic, registered for a course and are ready to go. Now there is one more trap to look out for. Although tackling your fear of public speaking will be rewarding it won’t be easy and there will be times that you may be tempted to give up.
The exercises suggested above will help when you feel like giving up. If you have written down your worst fears, how you might avoid these, and also considered the consequences of not acting, you are well prepared to last the distance. Here are a few more things to consider:
To achieve your New Year’s resolution or goal to address your fear of public speaking:
Post written by Catherine Syme
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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.