My palms were already sweating when the first lady began to speak in front of a group of men and women in sales. The speaker, an ever smiling chatterbox who clearly loved the limelight, had asked four of us to speak. This really was beyond my comfort level and I don’t know why I said yes.
The second lady got up and stood behind the podium, gripping it until her fingers turned white. She couldn’t look at the audience and was completely unable to utter a single word. She began to weep and her eyes locked on woman who had asked her to do this terrible task. After a few excruciating moments, she was kindly escorted from the stage.
The chatterbox introduced me and I took my place at the podium in front of the group of about seventy sales men and women. My whole body felt like a tuning fork and I was certain everyone could see how much I was shaking. I opened my mouth and began with introducing myself. Suddenly, all the fear drained away. I made a joke and they laughed and, after five eternal minutes, they applauded and I took my seat—a changed person. Empowered? Yes! And not in any hurry to repeat the experience.
I don’t usually consider myself public speaking material. It wasn’t my strength in school and it pained me to give a book report. I became a writer because I could say what I wanted without being in front of people. I prefer one-on-one meetings as a general rule, but in the case where interested people desire to hear what I have to say, (which does occasionally happen) I don’t mind sharing it once with twenty instead of the same info twenty times. But, speaking has a lot more to do with preparation and planning and knowing your subject very well.
I tell myself that if people didn’t want to hear what I had to say, they would be somewhere else. I tell myself a lot of things when I’m called upon to speak, but none of them include psyching myself out. It’s time for psyching up to meet the challenge. First: I’ve been asked to speak, because I have something to share. Second: I’ve completely convinced myself that excitement and fear feels exactly the same—and that I’m excited to speak in front of a roomful of people. Third: I am physically able to do this.
What does this mean for you?
You might not know that there are benefits to speaking in public. On top of establishing yourself as an authority in your field, you will be viewed as a leader and a person of influence. Here are a few other bonuses:
1. You might find out they like you. You could be a hidden gem, full of timely wisdom that many people could benefit from. You might have an amazing story to tell. You may have insight that the world needs to know. If you don’t try it at least a few times, you’ll never know. Even though I was flattered (and let’s be honest, terrified) the first time I was asked to speak, I learned a lot about how I would do it the next time.
2. You will become more empowered in your life. By having “speaking in front of a crowd” checked off your bucket list, you might wonder what other fear you can kick to the curb. You might begin to live more fearlessly. What would that look like? Completing a task that seemed so heart-stopping is exhilarating. I think it’s why people jump out of planes.
3. It might change your life. Some people have gone on to be educators, keynote speakers, comedians, preachers, and actors. Those are just a few occupations where a valuable skill like speaking is necessary. But, should you decide to conquer the fear of public speaking, you could make a surprisingly decent stream of income. All you have to do is say something of value that people want to hear or make them laugh.
4. You never know who you will meet, who you will touch or who needs your message. Think of it as a networking meeting. Not everyone will love you but most people are polite. Most people are relieved that you are up there and that they are not. You already get extra points for having the guts to step on the stage. Someone in the audience needs you, this has been true every single time I’ve spoken anywhere. If you encourage one person, won’t that be worth it? [Yes!]
Just being ourselves, speaking our own way, and delivering a story of value is really all anybody asks. If you can deliver one solid gold nugget that each person can take away, they will have benefitted. Especially if you’re new. If you’re funny or dynamic, well, what are you waiting for? Now that we live in the podcasting, YouTube-ing, live-feed generation, people don’t expect every lecture, webinar, or presentation to be flawless. “The people” aren’t as hung up on perfection as we have always thought they were. This is proven by comedian Drew Lynch.
I may never hit the major speaking tours (which is fine with me) but I have a few opportunities up my sleeve this year already. This is all part of my quest to “Live Fearlessly” which started last year when a girlfriend couldn’t go with me to a networking event. Stay tuned, because I’m sure I’ll have much more to share on this subject in the coming months.
Meanwhile, I’d be curious to know what fears you have, or have overcome. Are you staring at one right now and not sure what to do? Please share in the comments below.