Some degree of nerves at the prospect of addressing an audience is useful, because it drives you to put some effort into preparing a good talk. However, once you’ve honed your material and rehearsed it so that you no longer have to think to find the right words, if you’re still experiencing a high level of anxiety, it’s worth spending some time rationalising your fear. Like all demons, irrational fear of public speaking will shrivel up when you expose it to the light of scrutiny.
When my sister and I were in our early twenties, we each spent a few days in Paris alone. I’m a keen explorer and had no qualms about jumping on the metro and dashing all over that beautiful city. I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating a new system in a foreign language, working out how to buy tickets and make sure I got on the trains that would take me where I wanted to go. When it came to mealtimes, though, my adventurous spirit sagged and I could not summon the courage to go into a restaurant by myself. My sister, on the other hand, couldn’t face the complexities of the metro and confined herself to exploring on foot. But, when it came to gastronomy, she had wonderful experiences, walking through doors I would never have dared to open, discussing menus and asking the patron to recommend wine to go with whatever glorious French dish she was eating.
When we compared notes, we were both surprised by the other’s reactions and took strength from the fact that the other had done without turning a hair that which we had been too scared to do ourselves. Without consciously realising it, we had each assumed that the way we felt was the way it was (I’d assumed going into a Parisian restaurant alone was objectively more difficult than travelling on the metro; my sister had assumed the opposite). Understanding that this was just one interpretation made us question whether either of these feats was actually, genuinely, too frightening to be done.
The reason I’m telling you this is that the same principle applies in public speaking. Some people find small audiences more intimidating than larger ones, others vice-versa. Some people get much more stressed about addressing strangers than colleagues, others vice-versa. Amazingly to me, some people would prefer to sing in public than to speak.
All this shows there is no objective danger in public speaking. As long as you’re well prepared and rehearsed, it’s no more scary than riding the metro in Paris or having a delicious dinner in a little bistrot there.