On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your “fear” level when it comes to public speaking? If it is anything above a 3 (as it was for me) then read on. If it is 3 or less and you are wondering why you are still nervous – You should know that it is actually a good thing to be a bit nervous – Being somewhat nervous, actually makes you perform better and keeps you more focused and alert while you are speaking.
So why is it that we are panic stricken when we are called up to give a public talk? Whether you are asked for your opinion at you company’s board meeting, being asked to give a toast at your best friends wedding or even asked to give a eulogy at a relative’s funeral, just the “idea” of public speaking, drives us to run miles away from the speaking platform.
In fact, it was Jerry Seinfeld who once said that, “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.” Believe me, I know that what Jerry Seinfeld had said rings to be very true; because up until about 10 years ago, it was I who would have rather been in the casket than have to give the eulogy. So why is it that many people rank the fear of public speaking greater than the fear of death?
The relationship between embarrassment and death
One evening a few years ago, I was browsing through the Judaic section in Barnes & Noble and I came across a chapter from “The Ethics of our Fathers.” And I was reading through chapter three and what was written in verse 11 just jumped out at me. It stated that “When one humiliates their friend in public, they will have no share in the next world.” So I wondered -why does the Judaic scripture go so far as to talk about punishment for a person who embarrasses and humiliates another in public? Because it also stated that when someone humiliates another in public, it is as if he had spilled their blood!
So In other words, when you are humiliated in public, you “feel” as if you are “dying.” We all can remember those moments when we related an embarrassing moment to a friend and we said “I was so embarrassed, the blood rushed to my face and I felt like I was dying.” So after Leaving Barns & Noble later that evening, I came to the realization as to why people put fear of public speaking and death in the same category. My realization was this; we are panic stricken when we think of giving a talk in public because we “FEAR” that we will become embarrassed or humiliated.
Is fear of humiliation holding you back from public speaking?
Are you staying away from the speaking platform because you fear being humiliated or embarrassed in front of your peers, friends or family. You see, as I said earlier, I would have rather jumped off a bridge than have to give a talk in front of an audience. It sounds crazy, but that is where I was up until about 10 years ago. Whenever people asked me to say something at a family or social event, I would often run the other way. But sometimes I had been put on the spot, and with nowhere to run, I had no choice. You name it, I had it – no matter what the size of the audience was, I had trembling hands, sweaty palms, a palpitating heart rate and yes, I also had the frog in my throat! So how did I conquer my fear? And better yet, how can you conquer yours? Read on.
There are three kinds of confidence:
1. Performance confidence
2. Rehearsal confidence
3. Acceptance confidence
Performance confidence is just that. You have done something so many times that you have absolutely no problem doing it again and again because you have the “belief” in yourself that you can do it. Take driving a car for example. Did you get into your car this morning and wonder whether you can drive or not. I would guess that you didn’t even think twice about it! Because you have done it so many times, that driving actually became second nature to you. This is performance confidence. Performance confidence is great, however, it is not what you want to aim for when you are new to public speaking and your nervousness and anxiety is off the charts, as it was for me.
Rehearsal confidence is the increase in your confidence as you practice something and in our case it would be a speech or presentation. So the more your practice, the greater the confidence you will have in yourself. Rehearsal confidence is very good to have, but when you are just starting out and working to decrease your anxiety with public speaking, you need to be very aware of your rehearsal/action ratio. This is the ratio of your practice time versus how long you wait until you will actually do your presentation.
When I first started out in public speaking, my rehearsal/action ratio was out of whack. I suffered from something called “pre-mature performance confidence syndrome”, which basically trapped me in a cycle of never ending practice. Since I had so much fear of public speaking, I always wanted to make sure that I was “prefect” and wanting to be perfect led me to always practice, practice and still practice some more.
My practicing put me in a never ending cycle, which ultimately kept me trapped in “practice mode” with very little “stage time” in front of live audiences. So remember, that when you first start out in public speaking, you want to initially stay away from the desire for performance and rehearsal confidence and you want to totally embrace “acceptance confidence.”
By embracing the third kind of confidence called “acceptance confidence” You will start on the road to bringing whatever your fear level is, down to a 3, 2 or even a 1. Acceptance comes with the understanding that you will get more comfortable with public speaking as you do it more. In fact, in an amazing little documentary called Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld had this to say about getting more comfortable on stage: “You’re never really comfortable. Even though you may think you are… you really aren’t.” But in time, Seinfeld says, “you learn how to open, how to sustain, how to pace…” and you will get more comfortable.
Remember, as I mentioned earlier, you never want to totally get rid of your nervousness and this is what I think Jerry Seinfeld was really saying when he said “You’re never really comfortable”, because being a bit nervous will actually make you more focused and alert.
So what is acceptance confidence? Acceptance confidence is having the courage to do something without any reservations about what the outcome might be. It is the confidence in knowing that everything in life is a learning experience. It is in the knowing that we humans are “fallible beings” and do often make mistakes.
When we were born we accepted the fact that we didn’t know how to walk (well I guess we didn’t have a choice anyway!) But if we never took any risks by wobbling and falling on our face, and then brushing and dusting ourselves off and then trying to walk yet again – we would not be walking today! So being courageous is part of being human. Being Courageous is part of our DNA, but somewhere along the way, “fear” started to creep in somehow and started wearing away on our courageousness.
Always keep “Acceptance Confidence” near to your heart
I recently competed in a humorous speech contest in front of a very large audience and even though at my level of skill, where I can “tap” into my performance and rehearsal confidence, I still often choose to tap into “acceptance confidence.” Why? Because every so often “fear” has a tendency to want to pay me a visit when I least expect it to. So for me, after I have done all of my rehearsing, I still choose to embrace “acceptance confidence” and accept whatever comes my way.
When you embrace “acceptance confidence” you eradicate the anxiety associated with wanting to be perfect and wanting to “win.” You turn your energy into wanting to share your important message with the audience and enjoying the energy exchange with your audience. Embracing “acceptance confidence” also allows you to be in the moment. Dan Millman couldn’t have said it any better in his famous and profound book – “Way of the Peaceful warrior” and in it he said, “The journey is what brings us happiness – not the destination.” So enjoy the Journey my friend!