What we generally describe as “stage-fright” or the fear of public speaking, is actually much more specific. The fears can be broken down. One by one. And obliterated.
Why do you think you are afraid to get up and speak in front of an audience? Most people know it’s scary, but usually have no specific reason why. It’s like skydiving–we just know we’re going to be a little bit reluctant that first jump (which is why I’ve never taken it!).
I’ve thought about it quite a bit and through my experiences I’ve narrowed it down to 3 things. The 3 F’s of Fear. The fear of looking foolish, the fear of forgetting, and the fear of failure.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
The Fear of Looking Foolish
This is simply the fear of whether or not we’ll look foolish. In this case we are thinking too much about what we think others will be thinking of us, and this makes us nervous.
Apart from these fears not actually being a reality, even if they were, what is the worst that could happen if we ended up looking foolish? First off, what is foolish? We have ideas of what this means, but what would we need to actually do in order to be foolish? Pants falling down midway through our speech? Stuttering? Forgetting what to say? (we’ll discuss this one!)
Sure, they may sound foolish and a bit embarrassing, but it’s how you react to any of these situations that determines if you come off as being foolish. There’s always going to be a risk, but if we can control how we react or feel about those outcomes, then they won’t be able to control us.
So, think out the bare-bones reasons for what “looking foolish” is to you and then decide if those are really worth your mental resources. I’ll save you time: They aren’t.
The Fear of Forgetting
Wait…what were we going to talk about? Stupid joke. Sorry. This one basically goes back to looking foolish. But since it was a tremendous fear for me to get over, I had to give it its own section.
I practiced…and practiced…and practiced just to avoid this very outcome. The funny thing is, it became part of my actual focus while delivering a speech which is terrible.
I’ve experienced a mental lapse in one of my early Toastmasters speeches, my first actual prepared speech, so you better believe I was very, very afraid to fall victim to this.
Sure enough, before 1 minute in I forgot what the heck I was supposed to say. Frozen…well, not actually frozen, my memory was frozen. I was pacing back and forth like a nervous wreck for over 20 seconds before I finally decided to start muttering some words.
The point is, I survived. In my mind that was the absolute WORST possible thing that could’ve happened to me…and then it did.
I survived it though, and you would, too.
The Fear of Failure
We all want to be successful at whatever we do–or at least we should. Otherwise, why bother? In the book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide For Personal Freedom, (great book!) author Don Miguel Ruiz lists the 4th agreement as Always Do Your Best. He explains that if you always do your best, then you’ll have no regrets and thus nothing for your internal judge to criticize you for. Your best may vary depending on your physical and mental state, but you still have the ability to do your best at any given time. For example, your best when you’re tired isn’t going to be the same as when you’re at your most energetic state.
Fantastic advice Mr. Ruiz.
And that’s the key to overcoming the fear of failure. Do your best and let go of the outcome. If you do that, failure doesn’t exist. Prepare to the best of your ability, and then deliver to the best of your ability. Simple.
There you have it. The 3 F’s of Fear: Looking Foolish; Fear of Forgetting; Fear of Failure
Real fears. Real pains in the ass. But you can propel yourself through them using the tips above.
And before we finish up, I got another F word for them. F#$@ ‘em.
Be yourself and trust yourself. Let go of the outcome and deliver your message.
P.S. As many of you know, I have been tattooing my soul onto the pages of my new book The Perfectionist’s Guide To Public Speaking: How To Crush Fear, Ignite Confidence And Silence Your Inner Critic. Well, I’ve got an update! I finalized the book cover and the release is quickly becoming a reality. Crazy, right?
And in case you weren’t aware (you know, that window that flashed on the screen asking you to sign-up for the book?), surely you, an intelligent and awesome person, signed up to receive the book for free, right? If not, please head over here to check out the cover, see what you’ll gain by reading it, and ya know, sign-up to get it FREE! Who doesn’t want a free book? 🙂
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Well done, Matt! I’m a big fan of 3 or 5 steps that are clearly articulated, very practical, and include alliteration (I’m an absolute alliteration addict [see what I did there?]). If you’re interested, you can check out my posts at http://www.rhetoriopresentation.com.
Thanks for writing!
Haha, you’re the alliteration master! Keep it up with your posts and vids.