[Updated 2020] Are you letting your fears about speaking in public stop you from getting the help you need to improve your speaking skills? Change is hard, as we all know. We’re designed to avoid doing anything which frightens us, hard-wired this way to ensure our survival. You can overcome speaking fear…the hardest part is just starting.
My mother-in-law was dying (she was 97) when I originally wrote this post in 2013 – and seven years later, I believe that the ideas in it still resonate. It was such a privilege to know Marion over the twenty years I spent from arrival in Australia to when she died. She always spoke wisely, with great common sense, and encouraged me to be bold and not to let fear stop me from trying new things.
And today I want to offer you the same encouragement to improve your speaking skills. Life’s too short to allow the stale clutch and echo of old fears to hold you back.
So, with that in mind:
5 excuses and fears which keep you stuck and suggestions on dealing with them:
1. Overwhelm – “I don’t know where to start”.
I know how it feels when it all just seems too much, too overwhelming to start doing something different. So don’t look too far ahead: just take one action step at a time, and don’t set yourself unreasonable expectations either. Slow and steady, one small step – for example committing to researching online one of your issues around speaking – whether that’s breathlessness, shaking or lack of clarity in your speech structure. That’s doable. Check in with yourself and then take another step.
But don’t wait until you’re ready. You’ll probably never feel ready.
As David Allen, author of the ‘Getting Things Done system’, says, ask yourself “what’s the next action?”. So what’s your next action to improve your speaking skills? Is it picking up the phone to enquire about a public speaking course? Reading something which uplifts you and makes you feel brave? Reminding yourself of what you are already competent at (to give you courage)?
Find that next step, and be bold. Sometimes when clients phone me for the first time, their voice is shaking: and I truly respect and applaud the guts it takes to pick up the phone and take that step to improving their situation. It may be the same for you.
2. Planning – “I don’t have the time/money/energy right now, I’ll wait until … is in place and then I’ll start”.
Ah, planning. This can be an outcome of 2 other ‘P’ words: procrastination and perfectionism. If you don’t have the right amount of time to devote, or you’re afraid you won’t do it in the right way, you won’t do it at all. Isn’t this part of what’s held you back?
The solution: start anyway, from where you are right now. There will never be enough time, or your life in perfect alignment. We know this, but it’s so easy to get sucked into unnecessary tidying, or list-making, and think that we’re making progress. I’ve done it a lot: and it’s not progress, it’s fooling yourself. Just start.
3. Loss of control – “I have to get things right or there’s no point in doing them – I have high standards”.
There’s just no getting around this one: if you like to feel in control, remember that it’s really a myth. There is no certainty or real control in life. I’ve written a longer piece on control here.
This fear ties into perfectionism, and the solution is to give up that myth of being in control: the only thing you can truly control is your response to what happens to you. By being brave and taking that first step, and then practising new more positive thoughts and actions, you can reduce that desire and need for certainty.
4. Fear of humiliation – “People will laugh at me, or think I’m stupid”.
This is a very powerful human fear, that of being embarrassed or laughed at, which can incapacitate you and make you despair of changing. The whole “what will they think of me” can be agonising. But the truth is that your perceptions are faulty and past their use-by date: and people aren’t nearly as aware of you and your perceived flaws as you are.
The number of times I see clients in my workshops who believe that their physical symptoms are overwhelmingly obvious to the audience, and yet in the group we usually can’t tell. We really can’t. And if we can tell, then there are techniques and tools which can help to fix the problem, which is usually adrenaline-based.
How you feel inside is magnified about ten-fold compared to the outward view which the audience sees. Also worth remembering – they aren’t nearly as interested in you and your potential flaws as you think they are: they’re far more interested in themselves, and in getting through the day unscathed. And most people, if they do take the time to focus in on you, will respect you for doing something brave to change your life.
5. Fear of being the weakest in a group – “No-one will be as bad as me”.
Your undermining voice tells you that you’ll be hopeless: accept this, and sign up anyway. You wouldn’t believe how often I hear from clients “I wish I’d done this years ago” or “I can’t believe I let this hold me back for so long”. And you might be surprised how many people in the group will admit to the same feeling. There’s safety, support and respect there just waiting for you – just follow your instincts when choosing a group. And you might also be surprised by how far you progress!
To give you an example from my own life; my undermining voice was a big one, loved to have a chat any time I tried something new…or even thought about it. One of its main tricks was to compare my inadequate, misguided attempt to achieve something with other people far more successful than me (italics are its words to me, resonating in my mind). I still hear that undermining voice when I’m very tired and trying to get something done, or have had a rough day or week. It’s still there, hovering, chipping in to be ‘helpful’. But I recognise it and move ahead anyway. It’s the only way.
So, remember: life’s too short; find a coach, or a group or public speaking class. If you’re in or near Melbourne, come to one of my 5 week courses or private coaching sessions available online too. The important thing is to find someone supportive who listens to you and knows what they’re talking about: then take that first step.
Best wishes with getting help to improve your speaking skills and presentations.