Most people fear public speaking; I do too. Why?
Standing on a stage in front of 130 women in federal prison will challenge anyone. Public speaking in public is one thing, but in federal prison while serving time? My heart would race and thump, and all I could think of was how silly I must have sounded.
Upon leaving the chapel one morning, another inmate thanked me for speaking. I said, “Are you kidding me? I love it when I leave the stage!” She was an encourager, someone I did not know, and for whatever reason I found value in her feedback.
Looking foolish is one basic and very common reason. Who finds enjoyment in looking foolish or stupid? Humiliation can suck the life right out of you, make you cry, and needless to say, ruin the rest your day. I know very well.
If anyone served with me, they might remember I was the old white lady who cried all the time. Yep, that was me. I could barely speak without my eyes swelling up and breaking into “ugly face,” you know that “ugly face cry?” Oh, that is beyond humiliating.
Over time, I got better in controlling my emotions, but those deep emotions never went away. Even today, I have my moments, but now I simply let the audience know what I am about to say is always hard for me. In return, I observe through their watery eyes, a mutual understanding. Without words, the audience gently offers their grace and humanity back to me. Applause.
Nobody wants to make a mistake.
Another haunting reason people are nervous about public speaking is making a mistake (like nobody has ever done that before). And who says we have to try to achieve perfection? It is impossible. Actually, I find great relief in knowing that, don’t you? Does losing track of what you’re saying, searching for the right word, and then falling into a brain freeze sound fun? No, I’d rather get all four wisdom teeth pulled simultaneously. Be prepared; it will happen.
The good news is it’s not fatal. I know because I am still alive and it has happened to me. The interesting fact is that many times audiences are not aware of it. The audience doesn’t know you made a mistake or forgot to make a particular point, only you do. Keep your eyes forward, get over it, and move on.
Communication vs Performance
Choosing communication over performance can significantly reduce the pre-stage jitters. When I am in the audience, I prefer keynote speakers who speak like normal everyday people, like a friend or neighbor. It’s never about an impressive vocabulary, accolades, or educational status, but emotional, vulnerable, and real words.
If you want to be a public speaker or keynote speaker, have fun, laugh at yourself, and love your audience.
Describe your most memorable speakers and why. What, if anything, keeps you fearful of public speaking?