The popular wisdom that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death has been repeated so often it’s a cliche, although I’ve never seen any serious research to back it up. But whether public speaking really is a fear worse than death, or not, many people are afraid of performing in front of a group, some to the point that their stage fright makes them physically ill. If you’re one of them, I’d like to offer a word of advice.
But first, full disclosure. I’m not afraid of public speaking. Just the opposite. Being a motivational speaker by background, I get a kick out of being on stage and running my mouth. Some people love the adrenaline rush from surfing Mavericks or snowboarding the side of a mountain or sky diving. I love public speaking.
But it wasn’t always that way. Being on stage used to terrify me. So I started watching people who were good public speakers, and tried to imitate them. To put it bluntly, when I got on stage I simply pretended to be one of them, rather than me, which was a whole lot easier than facing my fear. But after a while, I didn’t have to pretend anymore because I was no longer afraid. I don’t recall the precise moment, but somewhere along the line I realized that public speaking wasn’t a God-given talent, it was a skill that anyone can learn, like riding a bike. Sure, some people are better at it than others. They do have a gift. But those who don’t can develop it.
Public speaking is just like any other skill. If you don’t know it, you can learn it. If you do know it, you can get better at it. You can even teach it to others, your coworkers or your family or anyone else who dreads the prospect of presenting to a group.
Once I figured out that public speaking was a skill, I set about learning it, and I’ve been working to master it ever since. I still have a long way to go, and I’ll never become the world’s greatest speaker, but at least I’ve learned to enjoy it.
If you’re not quite there yet, if you’re one of those people whose hands sweat, whose heart pounds, whose stomach churns whenever you get in front of a group, then hope is on the way. There are many resources that can help you become a better public speaker, and even help you learn to enjoy it. One of the newest and most intriguing is this:
Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking, with Todd Dewett
Keith Ellis is a bestselling author, elearning specialist, online training mentor, and management training consultant. He is the author of the bestselling thriller NO SECRETS, as well as THE MAGIC LAMP, the classic book about goal setting for people who hate setting goals, He serves as Head of Federal Training and eLearning for lynda.com.