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Speaking in public worse than dying

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Jerry Seinfeld said in one of his shows, “I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

This is so real that most of us can easily recall the first moment that we spoke in public and the huge emotional impact that it had. Some of us never did it again!

I have a friend who was 15 years old when he had to give a public presentation at school. During the presentation his classmates began to make fun of him and as a result, my friend was unable to speak in public for many years. Even when he was in the company of more than two persons, his strategy was silence. But then he was promoted in the company he worked for and was expected to hold group meetings. It was then he realized that more than making him an introvert or socially disabled, this fear of public speaking was a huge drawback for his career.

In my experience in personal coaching, it is quite common to have clients that want to improve their public speaking skills. One question I ask is “what are you specifically afraid of?” “Yes,” they say. “Fear! I recognize that.” Would you like to know what the number one answer is? Are you curious?

I will tell you. It is the fear of not being loved. The need to be loved and socially accepted is in our nature. Publicly exposing personal ideas, beliefs, problems or goals means those ideas, beliefs, problems and goals can be criticized. It makes us vulnerable, which most people find very difficult.

I have great news. You can do something to change that; you can transform uncomfortable into comfortable, even fun. I will give you the basic tips for public speaking and feeling comfortable at the same time:

Defining an Intention

Creating an internal intention, a personal one, creates the motive for your public exposure. This gives you the motive for action, in other words, real motivation. An intention gives you a higher purpose, something you would like to achieve now or in the near future. Defining this intention also makes you consciously aware of why this is important to you which will help your unconscious system to perform better. Sometimes people ask me what the difference is between an intention and a goal. Well, a goal is more specifically defined in the future and usually has a set path for getting there. An intention is more flexible and gives you more flexibility for reaching what you want to reach.

If you want something and it is really important to you, write your intention, or even more than one intention, on a piece of paper and keep that special paper next to you before you begin your speech.

Emotional State

More important than your actions, is how you feel about those actions. Keep reminding yourself of why you are in that stage?

It is possible to create a new emotional state; one that you believe it is more consistent with your presentation. For example, if you would like to be self-confident in the stage; you can create that by listening to your favourite song, one that makes you believe in you, that evokes the greatest impact in you for your self–confidence.

Most famous public speakers have personal rituals before their performance. These rituals are designed to bring them into the desired emotional state for them to perform at their best.

As well as achieving the right emotional state, it is important to learn how to maintain that state, just in case you have a moment of insecurity or the audience does something unexpected. You can train yourself for that.

Preparation and improvisation

You are responsible for creating the rituals, the space you need to prepare for the presentation.

Take your time, prepare in advance and talk about things you feel confident about and understand. Do some research if necessary, because even the best improvisation comes with training and experience. Always prepare and then let go of the preparation. In other words, prepare and then expect the unexpected, and once you start, let the preparation go. This sounds like a paradox but it is actually a simple concept. You prepare the “why, what, how” of your speech and once you start your speech, your intention, your state and your ability to connect with your audience take over. You can only build rapport if you can let go of your preparation.

Jerry Seinfeld had a great point when he expressed his amazement about people’s fear of public speaking. If public speaking is really a matter of life and death, then I choose to live and be myself. So you just be yourself too. Cherish your unique gift and share it with others.

Peter Koijen

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