“Fearless,” “bold,” “brave,” and other variations are descriptions lots of people assign to professional speakers. People have called me those things, and I’ve heard lots of other speakers described that way.
I’ve just come off the rush of the most incredible conference I’ve ever attended, the annual Canadian Association of Professional Speakers convention. I got to watch world class speakers, befriend fellow speakers, and even make my own small contribution to the program.
Some of the talks I saw were new, and some of them had been given a hundred times before. With every talk and every speaker, on the keynote mainstage and in the breakout sessions, you could see and hear and feel how much their talk meant to them. A lot of feelings came off these people, but fearlessness wasn’t one of them. When you care that much about a talk, the fear that it’s going to bomb or somehow all go wrong is never far behind.
The process of developing our stories and content is definitely frightening. We’re courting failure and rejection with every word and we know it. So we write draft after draft until something semi-workable is produced. We give the talk, then go back to the drawing board to work on it some more. And even on our second, third, or fourteenth time giving the talk, we’re still afraid that it isn’t done, that it should somehow be better.
The minutes and hours before a talk are nerve-wracking. Insecurities bubble up, self-doubt rages, and adrenaline surges. Degrees of nervousness vary, but I don’t know any speaker who doesn’t get at least a little bit nervous before a presentation.
The image of control and ease that you see on stage isn’t fearlessness, it’s discipline and practice. It’s our job to do what we do in spite of our fears and insecurities, not in absence of them.
It isn’t that we’re bullet-proof or somehow immune to mistakes and embarrassment. It’s that we’ve learned to roll with them and use them to our advantage.
We figure out personal techniques to manage pre-talk nervousness.
We dance with fear and use it as an adrenaline surge to boost our performance or an alarm system to tell us when something needs more work.
We look at our mistakes and think “why did that happen?”, then devise strategies to avoid that mistake in the future.
We learn to laugh at our embarrassing moments – both on and off stage – and plumb them for funny stories to use in upcoming talks.
We don’t let those unavoidable, uncomfortable aspects of speaking silence us. And I don’t want you to let them silence your voice, either.
So if you start to shake before getting up in front of a crowd, don’t feel badly – some of us shake, too. If you feel that what you have to say isn’t good enough for your audience, don’t beat yourself up – we fret about our content, too. If you think that there’s no way you can get up and give a talk after Judy gave her’s (because she was so damn good and you could never be that good), don’t let it stop you – we sometimes feel that way, too.
If you think you can’t be a speaker because you aren’t fearless on stage, just remember: neither are we. Don’t let the fear stop you.
Want some tips on how to manage your nervousness when you get up to speak? Click here to download my Fear of Public Speaking infograph
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