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Facing Your Fear of Public Speaking

I don't like public speaking anymore than anyone else does. I don't know that I have a fear of public speaking, but it isn't my favorite thing. For one thing, I have a slight lisp and when I hear it in my voice, and I'm speaking to say, 300 people, I feel overcome with embarrassment.

However. I found out early on that so many people have a fear of public speaking, if you volunteer to go on the chopping block when the need arises, you'll be greatly admired by your peers, and the higher-ups. So I sucked it up, and started doing quite a bit of public speaking early on in my career.

Years ago, I used to do training and development, so I practiced on my small groups of newbies. I felt comfortable enough in front of five or six people to volunteer to train out of town clients when they visited the company where I worked. Soon, I was often standing in front of a dozen or more people, blathering away. I felt so comfortable, I'd joke and work to put them at ease during class. And eventually, I found myself presenting department results alongside our VP at quarterly meetings.

I was also often called upon at the last minute to speak at a seminar when someone had to bow out at the last minute. Typical scenario: "John's sick. Lisa, can you explain his department results to our 50 visiting clients with no background on his work at all, starting in five minutes?" Response from the Human Resources VP sitting next to me: "Sure she can. I've seen her do it."

Every time I've volunteered to speak in public, good things have happened for me. For one thing, when you face your fear of public speaking head-on, you feel really gratified afterward. Strong. In addition, so many people I have worked with over the years had a paralyzing fear of speaking in public, that I ended up taking on almost all of the travel and all of the corporate dog-and-pony shows that needed to be done. The result? I got out of doing a lot of boring paperwork. Since I took on the bulk of public speaking gigs, the others I worked with were all too happy to pick up the admin work that needed to be done.

Other good things have come out of facing my nervousness or fears about public speaking. I recently spoke on an "expert" panel of marketing and PR strategists (I know, I'm not sure how I ended up there either, ha ha) and the worst possible thing happened right smack in the middle- my cell phone went off, playing Bob Marley at full volume. Very red-faced, I turned it off immediately, and then rebooted at the end of the discussion. Me being me, my phone immediately went into attack mode when I turned it back on (beep-beep-ring-ring- you've had your phone off for an hour and you have 70 new voice mails, missed calls and text messages), so everyone who didn't get the reggae ring tone got to enjoy the disco/samba message alerts instead.

But that's not the funniest part. The fellow sitting next to me, Al McLaughlin, marketing czar turned playwright, told me there was a part in his play for a "very pushy PR lady… whose cell phone keeps going off." I read for the part… and I got it!

I would never have known about the play if I wouldn't have agreed to sit on the panel. And, participating in the play (which was actually just a couple of readings at the Aronoff and Sitwell's, not acting out the parts) gave me even more opportunities to speak in public. In addition, I got to meet a number of amazing actors and playwrights local to Cincinnati- I even got to read another play in the making. This was beneficial too, and a big part of the reason I participated. I've been noodling around with a couple ideas for plays and reading these two plays gave me a big confidence boost (e.g., You can do it too, Lisa).

If you're afraid of public speaking, address it head on. There are plenty of support groups, like Toastmasters, that can help you work through the nervousness. They can even help you organize and prepare your speech. Or, take a leaf from this blog, and just start small. Practice your public speaking skills in an environment where you feel comfortable, not overwhelmed. Acknowledge and accept the fact that you will sometimes get flustered or lose your train of thought. When this happens to me, I just try to keep talking, and usually I can get back on track pretty quickly. And truthfully, so few people are really paying attention when they listen to you speak (sorry, but it's true), they won't notice a little flub here and there.

I think you'll be glad you faced your fear of public speaking. I hope it brings you a lot of rewards.

And please, let me know how it goes.

Comments

Lee Ann Price said…
congratulations on pushing past your reservations about speaking and reaping the rewards that came from getting "out there."

Thank you for mentioning Toastmasters. I'm a recent member of the organization and have been having a terrific experience learning the craft of speaking in the clubs that I've joined.
Lisa said…
Thanks, Lee Ann. I still have reservations (believe me) but yes, I am always glad when I do it.

I have heard a lot of good things about Toastmasters- glad it's working for you!

:)

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