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Don’t Let Fear Leave You 
Speechless – And Jobless 

By Judy Carter

  • Do you get nervous when you speak in front of a group?

  • Do you get tongue-tied when you’re put on the spot?

  • Do your brilliant ideas sound stupid when you say them out loud?

  • Would you rather have a root canal than give a speech?  

If you answered yes to any of these questions – don’t worry: you’re normal.  Public speaking is scary. A survey taken by USA Today found that the number one fear people share is public speaking. The number two fear is the fear of dying. Meaning – people would rather  that their parachute not open than to have to speak in front of a group of people. (I don’t know what the third biggest fear is, but it might be slowly dying while you are standing in front of people...)

If you aren’t frightened of giving a speech, take your pulse -- you might be dead.

Unfortunately for the fearful, there comes a time in most careers when people have to give a presentation. When that time comes, the ability to speak clearly and decisively is an absolute career must. And – being able to state your position with confidence lets you fully participate in meetings, negotiations, and debate. To be on a career fast track, you have to be able to deliver an effective speech.

If you’re so scared of speaking in front of a group that you avoid it at all costs, you’ll miss out on opportunities to practice a vital skill. As your fear grows over time, it can lead to a desire to not call attention to yourself and that can stand in the way of you being noticed, rewarded, and promoted. So, how do you get over the fear of public speaking?

The only advice friends will give you when you have to speak in front of an audience is to imagine the audience naked. To me, that seems like terrible advice. (Any time I’m in front of naked people, the last thing I want to do is to talk.)  Instead, it would be better advice to tell you to try to understand the source of the problem.

Fear sometimes arises as your internal negative voices turn up the volume when you try to do something out of the ordinary. When you step outside of your “comfort zone,” fear pops up and tries to convince you to keep safe by avoiding risks. But since success usually involves risk taking, overcoming fear is a necessity to move ahead in a highly competitive business world.

Fear itself isn’t the problem. It’s the way you deal with it – or don’t deal with it -- that is the problem. You might not even be aware how often actions and decisions are solely based on fear. For instance, you might not go to a party because you’re frightened to go alone, but you tell yourself, “I’m too tired, I have a big day tomorrow.”

This type of unexpressed fear could be slowing your career advancement. You might be avoiding expressing your ideas – both in speeches and in general -- because you feel uncomfortable about the possibility of failure. But instead of facing that fear, you tell yourself, “I can just send this out in a memo” or  “I’ll keep this to myself – why rock the boat?” or  “I’ll write my speech later; Desperate Housewives is on...

When you experience fear – remember that brave people are not unafraid. What distinguishes them is that they act despite the fear. Use this Five-step program for managing your speaking fears:

1) Admit your fears to yourself: Imagine yourself giving a speech. Write down all thoughts of fear, impending doom, anxiety, apprehension, dread, foreboding or panic.

The audience will hate me.   I’ll look stupid. My mouth will go dry. I’ll sweat profusely.   I’ll start cussing -- and won’t be able to stop. I’ll be so embarrassed that I’ll keel over dead. And then I’ll start to smell...

2) Evaluate your fears: Now go back over these lists and cross off all unrealistic fears. For instance, if one of your fears is "dying" on the platform, you can X that out. More people have died from clogged pores than from public speaking. Although giving a speech might make you sweat and grunt, dying is not an option -- even when you wish it would be.

3) Confide your fears to a friend: Call a friend and tell him or her your realistic fears. Fear loses a lot of its power when it's out in the open. Fear also tends to shrink when you share the burden with a sympathetic listener – especially if they have some good solutions -- or can make you laugh. Maybe your friend will answer your fear of sweating profusely by telling you, “Use lots of deodorant and wear black.”  Once we can joke about our fears, they seem to go away.

4) See opportunities in your fears: Play out your realistic fears step by step, giving them a positive spin. For instance, one of my fears is “nobody will get my ideas…”  I play out each step of "what will happen" with my fear, playing it out even the worst case scenario until it eventually hits bottom, bounces back, and turns positive. For example, If nobody get my ideas…

...then my speech won’t go well

...then my client, Mr. X, won’t like my speech...

...then Mr. X. won’t buy from me...

...then I’ll be forced to look for another client...

...then I’ll look for someone who does get my ideas...

...then I’ll find them...

...then I’ll be understood and appreciated...

...then I’ll be happier – and I’ll make more money!

Take action: Fear is like the school bully who's made you his target. You can try to avoid him by walking home a different way, but he will always find you. Are you going to let the fear of losing your lunch money dictate where and how you live? Or - will you do the scary thing and deal directly with the bad guy? Successful people aren’t necessarily less frightened than you - they just do things in spite of being frightened.

Most people are afraid to look stupid. When you speak in public, you take that risk in a big way. There’s only one way to face this fear - do something stupid.

Pick something that you are scared of doing - and go do it. (Make sure it’s nothing dangerous or illegal ... "Your honor, I carjacked that Lexus to get over my fear of public speaking." )

Choose something to do that is out of your comfort zone. For example:

  • “I’m going to take a meeting with my boss and express my new ideas.”

  • “I’m going to ask for a raise.”

  • "I'm going to eat lunch with a stranger."

  • “I’m going to send my meal back to the kitchen.” (even if the restaurant is Burger King)

Don’t wait until you get over your fear to speak. Do it in spite of being afraid.  And when you speak:

  • Focus on your ideas rather than your insecurity.

  • Keep your speech simple by having one main idea that you can say clearly.

  • If something goes wrong – don’t ignore it – joke about it. (“I wanted feedback on my speech – I just didn’t realize it would all be coming from the microphone.”)

  • Fix a dry mouth by squeezing your cheeks  (preferably the ones on your face.)

And finally, if you find yourself getting nervous, sweaty, and anxious, stop, take a deep breath and look an audience member in the eye and wonder, “Is that Victoria Secret underwear my boss is wearing?!”

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis. Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and requirements.]

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