Can you become a speaker if you have a fear of public speaking? Absolutely! I know it’s going to take more than just me saying that to convince you though, so let’s get to it. The fear of public speaking can generally be broken down into two different types of fearful experiences.
The first one is triggered by our inner instinct of self-preservation, courtesy of our caveman ancestors and their desire to remain alive in spite of the T. Rex-type carnivores that wanted to eat them. Rule #1? Don’t stand out in the open. If you do, you’re more likely to get noticed. Noticed = eaten. Fortunately, I think we can all agree that we don’t have to worry about being eaten by a T. Rex while we’re speaking.
Now that we’ve addressed that fear, we can get down to the real reason most people fear public speaking—the fear of being judged. How do we know people will judge us? Because we judge them. We don’t mean to do it. Nor do we do it to be mean. It’s just something we all have a tendency to do. Of course we also have a tendency to judge ourselves way more harshly than we would judge someone else.
In fact, when successful people make mistakes, or when we recognize that someone isn’t perfect and yet they still make a good impression, it’s both a relief and proof that we don’t have to be perfect either. If you did a little research (which you don’t have to do because I’ve done it for you), you’d find out that many professional speakers admit that they still have to deal with their inner fears before they step in front of an audience. They’ve just figured out how to stop those fears from getting in the way.
The bad news is that there isn’t a “pill” we can take to eliminate our fear of being judged for things like the way we look, sound, act, or whatever on stage. The good news is that I have an interesting methodology for tackling the fear of being judged that doesn’t require stepping on stage. Instead, you do just the opposite… sit in a bunch of audiences and pay attention to the speaker.
1… Start by focusing on the speaker’s strengths. Make a list of the things you liked about the way the speaker presented themselves on stage. Did you like how they stood? How they used their voice? How they dressed? Their facial expressions? It doesn’t matter what it is that draws your attention, just make a note of all the things you liked about the speaker as a person.
2… At the same time, make notes of the things you don’t like—things you’d be embarrassed to have people see you doing. That might sound a little harsh—and yes, a little “judgey”—but people don’t always know what they’re afraid of being judged for until they see someone else do it first. Learning from other people’s experiences is always a smart way to avoid learning the hard way on your own.
Now that you have your two lists, you can begin to think about how to integrate the things you liked into your own on-stage presence. Not everything on the list will be right for you, but it’s nice to have options. And the more speakers you watch, the more options you’ll have. The same goes for the things that made you cringe. Now you know what you want to avoid like the plague.
Make it a goal to sit in as many audiences as you can, and you’ll begin to catch onto other things too, like different presentation styles, strategies and tricks that might work for you.
For speakers, both new and seasoned, there’s always something to be gained from sitting in an audience. Give this strategy a try. It might be just what the doctor ordered for alleviating the fear of being judged. No one is perfect, and you certainly don’t have to be perfect to be great on stage.