Fear serves a useful purpose in life, preventing us from wandering into danger without putting our guard up. In terms of public speaking, if fear of it all going horribly wrong (whatever that looks like for you) pushes you to prepare and practise thoroughly, this is protective and good. Fear is your friend in this case, so embrace it and let its energy fuel you to accomplish the hard work that goes into creating a successful speech or presentation.
As I’ve said before on this blog, knowledge and skills chase away fear. Once you’ve got your talk down, so that you don’t have to think about finding the right words because they roll off your tongue with ease after all the practice you’ve put in, fear has served its purpose and becomes redundant. You may still have a twinge of residual nerves, since public speaking is challenging and possibly new to you, but if the fear is any stronger than the odd butterfly stirring in your tummy, it’s irrational.
Of course, just knowing it’s irrational doesn’t in itself make the fear any less real or unpleasant. The next step is to confront it and to persuade your gut that the fear is irrational and therefore redundant. To achieve this, I find it helpful to think about how other people feel in the same circumstances: if other people see the object of my fear very differently, this makes me question the level of risk involved. For example, I’m scared of heights and last summer, when I allowed myself to be talked into taking part in a tree-top assault course at Aerial Extreme, I clung to the starting post with sweaty palms. However, by forcing myself to accept that my friend was enjoying swinging around on ropes high above the ground and that I was securely harnessed and there really was no objective danger, I overcame my fear and went twice round the course – the second time as a lap of honour to celebrate my victory.
If public speaking scares you, bear in mind that many people (including me) love it. Rigorous preparation and practice – and your notes – are your safety harness and any lingering anxiety needs to be reframed as exhilaration, so you can step confidently on to the stage and enjoy the experience of communicating with your audience.