3 Ways to Overcome Society’s #1 Fear
Real problems, real solutions
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
— Jerry Seinfeld
That is correct. The number one fear in the world is public speaking. Even with all of the classes, practice, and examples there are out there, getting in front of a group of people and sharing your thoughts and feelings is the scariest task for the majority of people in the world. But, why?
Is it the awkward feeling we get when there are multiple sets of eyes on us?
Is it the fear of messing up?
Is it the fear of looking strange?
Quite honestly, the fear is different for each individual. But this is not what matters most. What matters most is that this is an epidemic that has spread around the world, and it must be addressed.
There are a thousand and one articles swarming the internet on quick fixes, tips, and tricks to minimize this anxiety. Sure, drinking water, practicing 10 times, and being organized are great tips, I’m not here to downplay these. I have tried those, and sure they help, but they are not strategies that ease the tension built up inside of you in the long-term.
I have had 15 speaking engagements in the last few months. All I can do and want to do with this article is share some of the steps I have taken in order to approach a task that most would rather die than do and turn it into something that is actually really fun!
So, if you want to overcome your fear of public speaking, then…
1. Talk About your Fear of Public Speaking
I went to give my first talk about my book at a library in my home town. There were about 75 people there, most of which were friends and family, and they all pretty much knew what the book was about anyway. But, I wanted to make it fun, I wanted to impress, I wanted to make the talk worth their while.
I practiced in the mirror, I practiced in front of my parents, I threw in some activities to keep it engaging and interact with the crowd, and I felt confident up until the very moment the host introduced me and said,
“And without further ado, here is Jordan Gross.”
Although I had essentially memorized what I was going to say, I had a moment of panic when I stood up in front of the crowd. So, I dropped the metaphorical cue cards and spoke freely.
Just a quick aside, this is not the theme of this article (maybe I will write one on this coming soon :)), but I do not recommend memorizing! This makes the speech feel less natural and fluid, and also could lead to major mistakes if you forget your place or can’t remember a word.
So, there I am, looking out into 150 eyeballs, and I say this.
“You know, I have this whole thing prepared in which I’m going to explain to you the book, and we’re going to do activities, and it’s going to be so fun, but I want to be candid with you for a moment. This is terrifying. This. Is. Terrifying. Public speaking is a scary thing. It is hard to be up here with all of you. I feel nervous, I feel a little bit anxious, I feel a little bit uncomfortable. But these are what I like to call now nerves. Very quickly these now nerves are going to go away and little by little they are going to turn into never nerves. So, in order to maximize the time that all of you are going to have here, I am going to put these now nerves behind me, focus on you guys, and get started enjoying our time together.”
Because I was vulnerable, I was real, I was genuine, the entire audience was able to come to my rescue, to come on my side. The rest of the speech went smoothly, but the majority of comments I received afterward were in regard to the courage I had in making that fist statement.
To aid in overcoming the fear of public speaking, let the audience know you fear public speaking.
2. Have the Audience Close Their Eyes
In approaching my next speech, I decided to dig a little bit deeper and figure out why I got so nervous when my speech was about to begin. If it wasn’t about being prepared, having quality material, or not having enough practice, then what was it?
I was never a handsome guy growing up. I was heavy, I had big glasses, I had long hair, I had a couple baby teeth until college, and overall, I was never confident in my own skin in regard to my physical appearance. Although I look very different now, and I am now much more comfortable with who I am and the way I look, when I got up in front of those people, I saw myself as the insecure middle schooler, rather than the self-assured 23-year old I was. I had to figure out a way to overcome this.
If the number one thing that was scaring me was people looking at me, then all I had to do was not have people look at me! I decided to incorporate into the beginning of my presentation, a moment in which the audience had their eyes closed. This allowed me to focus on the words, watch the audience react, and gave me the confidence and momentum I needed to get started.
If you’re afraid of being the center of attention and having all eyes on you, have the audience close their eyes to start.
3. Create a Confidence Boosting Pregame Ritual
This is going to look different for everybody, but you must approach an event like this, something that is meaningful, something that is important, and something that is distressing, feeling your best. Athletes do it, so why not presenters as well. It is essential to make some sort of build-up routine before starting the big game.
For me, I practice something called COMFY, which stands for Calm, Openness, Movement, Funny, and YOU. To calm myself down before I speak, I do a 5-minute meditation. Then for openness, I tell a few people how grateful I am to have them in my life. For movement, I bounce up and down and jog in place a bit. For funny, I watch a 2-minute funny video clip. And lastly for you, or me in this case, I listen to some pump-up music and then head on stage.
I have turned this into a habit so that the more I do it, the more my brain gets conditioned for courage and a great performance. I am feeling my absolute best, and I am ready to go.
To feel comfier getting up in front of people, practice a comfort-inducing pregame routine.
I do this quickly before I get on stage as well. I puff my chest out, I raise my head up, and I put my hands above my head and let out a huge breath. Then I am ready to go.
Public speaking is a daunting task. But, the more you use these strategies and the more you find opportunities to practice, the better and easier it will get. Your now nerves will turn into never nerves and before long, you’ll be presenting like a pro.
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