I'd Rather Die Than Speak in Public

Public speaking is one of the most common fears in the US. There are some people who are more scared of speaking in public than dying! Can you believe it? This fear is hard for me to understand as I have been placed in front of large audiences since I was a young child. First, in school choirs, holiday plays, musical in high school, and as an adult, workshops, and training. I love to speak in public. For me, it is easier to speak to 100 people on a stage than to socialize at a party with 10 people I don’t know. I feel alive when I stand in front of groups, be it 10 people or 100. Something inside me is activated and ready for the challenge.

My sister does not share the same enjoyment of public speaking. When we were younger, we were both in college at the same time but in different cities and universities. To graduate, my sister had to take and pass a speech class which she was dreading. The next summer we would both be in our hometown for the summer so she asked me to take the speech class with her at one of the local colleges. I requested approval from my university because I needed a speech class too, and they approved so we were all set for summer school. The class was six weeks long and my sister did a great job. Although, close to 15 years later, she still doesn’t enjoy public speaking.

The other day, I was leading a workshop and paired attendees so they could conduct mock interviews with each other.  Not many people I know love to do these but generally they see the purpose of them and find great value in them. As I walked around the room, one of the attendees said: “I hate these”. I asked, what is the problem? He said he hates public speaking. I didn’t even consider a mock interview public speaking but for him, this was public speaking. I mentioned that some people’s fear of public speaking is greater than that of dying. He said, yes, I would rather die than to have to public speak.

Is being a good public speaker a trait you are born with or is it something you can develop? I believe both. People have asked me over the years, how I speak naturally when giving presentations and my answer is, years of practice, training, and a passion for public speaking.

This is a fear that can be overcome.

First, you analyze or determine where the fear is coming from. Is the fear of being judged, that you will mess up, or that you are not a subject matter expert?  For some people there was an incident that happened (which they may or may not remember) that led to this fear. When you were in elementary, were you called on in class, didn’t know the answer, and were made fun of by your classmates? There are incidents in our lives that when they occur, our minds take a snapshot or pings (good or bad) to determine what will happen the next time something similar happens. For instance, if you touch a hot stove, your brain says stoves are hot, let’s not touch them again. Maybe your brain doesn’t say that exactly but you get the picture. Your brain can do this with other things that really aren’t dangerous but if you have an experience that your brain perceives as negative, your brain may create an imprint that something is bad or dangerous. So if there was a time when you spoke in public and during the experience something that your brain perceived as negative, you may then get a “ping” each time you speak in public that it is a negative experience. The solution is to reprogram your mind to learn that public speaking, or another fear you’d like to overcome, really isn’t dangerous and is safe for you to do.

Now you wouldn’t do this with things that are dangerous, like touching a hot stove, but if you have fears like public speaking or other fears that you’d like to overcome, this is a great method. The method is difficult to explain in writing but I will provide a high-level overview to give you an idea. First, bring the fear of public speaking. Next, you discuss and feel how you’d like to feel instead. Then you would reintroduce the original experience that had been negative. This method helps your brain develop a new positive association to experience versus the negative one you had. You repeat this process until you no longer have a reaction to the original situation. It’s amazing how easy the process can be.

I believe a little fear or anxiety before going on stage or giving a presentation is a good thing. For me, it helps me to bring my A Game and to be sure to prepare as much as possible. If I am too casual and don’t feel a little nervous prior to my speech, I don’t feel like I would do as well.

Once you remove your fear of public speaking, it is time to develop your presentation skills. I’ll discuss this topic in a future blog!

You don’t have to live with a fear that affects your work and personal life. There are simple methods that can help you eliminate or at least reduce your fear. If you’d like to work with someone to help you overcome your fear, reach out to Happiness Now. Below you can see an example of my public speaking. A little different from what I usually do but it was a fun to create!