Since launching Fearless, I’ve been studying what it is that seems to be holding so many people back in overcoming stage fright. I’ve found it staggering how many people have confided in me about having a life-long, expertly hidden fear of speaking to groups, only to have grown bigger and bigger as the years have gone on.
Yesterday, I was reading a book about public speaking which said ‘Look, if you really hate public speaking and you’re absolutely terrible at it because you get so nervous, then don’t be hard on yourself – that’s ok. Just accept it and leave to other people. This book is not for you!’
THIS IS THE WORST ADVICE EVER.
If you have anxiety about meeting new people, does that mean new people aren’t for you? If you have anxiety about going out the house, does that mean outdoors isn’t for you? If you have anxiety about food, does that mean food isn’t for you?
Anxiety is like Dracula – it loves the dark! The more you keep it hidden away and feed it with protective behaviours – like avoidance – the bigger it grows. This month you avoid presenting to a group of 30 people. Next month you decide to skip a meeting with 10 people. The following month you feel nervous presenting to a group of 5.. and before you know it you’ve stopped going for promotions at work in case you have to do an interview. People with social anxiety earn on average 14% less because they avoid opportunities. Do you want that to be you?
Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet with overcoming fear of public speaking – building confidence in this area is a marathon rather than a race. Fear grows – unless you face it. And only once you face fear can you begin to change your perception that a threat exists, and see it eventually dissipate.
Building confidence in public speaking is about committing to a long-term plan of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone – one small challenge a day, every day, until you begin to desensitise and no longer register speaking to an audience as a threat. This takes time and commitment; leave a voicemail on a friend’s answerphone one day, make a toast at dinner another day, make a speech at someone’s birthday, lead a brainstorm at work… and so on.
Eventually, you’re presenting to an audience one day, and you look out across the crowd and finally realise – there is no threat. It was all in your imagination. You’re just talking to a group of ordinary people, and how you come across in this one presentation is not representative of your whole self-worth. In fact, it doesn’t really mean that much at all, because you’re speaking to audiences all the time. Sometimes you’re good, sometimes you’re not so good – this one presentation doesn’t define you, and no one really cares that much about you anyway because they’ve got their own issues to worry about!
The key to building real confidence is to change the relationship you have with yourself. It’s about having a more flexible approach to falling short of your ideal – accepting the fact that you’re not perfect, and that making mistakes and social blunders is part of your personal growth. What’s more important – that you learn something new by pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, or that you get it exactly right? If, like many people who have public speaking anxiety, you adopt the rigid attitude that you have to get it exactly right every time, then you’re likely to avoid taking up opportunities to speak. So the real goal is to pat yourself on the back for trying, and get comfortable with making mistakes. Embrace the imperfections and the social blunders, because they are all part of the journey – it is just not possible to grow without them.
So make sure you’re not one of those 14% who are earning less – start setting yourself one small challenge a day and watch how your confidence grows over time! You can get started straight away with our Two-Week Social Anxiety Superfood Diet.
This article was written by Carrie Swift, Founder & CEO of Fearless.