Fear and Public Speaking

A good friend, and wonderful speaker, called me not long ago just a few hours before a big presentation on Eleanor Roosevelt. “I’m feeling nervous about this one” she said “any words of advice?”

“Yes” I said “just remember it’s not about you… it’s about Eleanor.”

“Oh right” she said “thanks.”

I’m often asked how to deal with the nerves and fear that go along with public speaking. I typically tell people “don’t be self centered.” Here’s what I mean.

Usually, before a big presentation we are completely preoccupied with ourselves. With our performance and how we’ll do. We build up within ourselves an expectation of perfection (an expectation the audience does not share by the way) through a series of terrible “what if” questions. What if I embarrass myself? What if I forget what I’m supposed to say? What if I stumble over my words?

What you need to realize is that it’s not about you. It’s about your content and the value of that content to the audience. Take the spotlight off of yourself and remind yourself that you have something of value to tell the audience. Remind yourself that the audience will benefit from hearing what you have to say. Take the spotlight off of yourself and put that spotlight on your content and your audience. It’s about them not you.

When you approach the presentation in this way you’ll feel the pressure lift from your shoulders because now your focus isn’t on your performance and all the things that might go wrong – but instead your focus is where it belongs, on your content and your audience.

And do you think the audience will disregard that valuable content you deliver simply because you stumble over a few words or lose your place and have to check your notes? Not a chance. So don’t be preoccupied with attaining a perfect performance because no one expects it.

There will be more to come on handling fear before the big presentation.

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