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(Gradually) overcoming my fear of public speaking

Posted on Feb 08, 2017 by SidewaysCreative  | Comments (0)

Guts over FearIn late 2016, I was invited to run a two-hour seminar on storytelling for Bristol University’s Faculty of Engineering.

I'd be lying if I didn't say the thought of speaking in front of 25 plus people terrified me. Until now I've been hiding behind the written word for, well, pretty much all of my career.

My dalliance with public speaking is my business coach's fault after she suggested I turn the one-to-one brand storytelling I was doing with clients into a course.

I smirked the first time she said it. But inside? Let’s just say, my heart leapt and my bowels almost emptied.

Back then, I could speak in front of two, maybe three, people at a time – any more required a stiff G&T – but… and this was the thing I REALLY WANTED TO DO IT.  

So I got out of my head and into action.

I started small, working with one person at a time. Then a large company approached me to run an in-house storytelling course for their marketing team. I barely slept the week before. Of course, I needn't have worried, they were lovely and all went smoothly.

Around this time, I was invited to speak about brand storytelling for the West of England Design Forum at one of their Espresso Sessions at Spike Design in Bristol.

They were expecting between eight and 12 people. ‘I can do that,’ I thought as I nodded my acceptance. 

Over 20 tickets later, I went into a blind panic. 'Argggghhhh... how can I get out of this?' I seriously considered cancelling and didn't sleep properly for a fortnight beforehand. That morning, from the moment I woke up, I was shaking uncontrollably. It lasted until five minutes into the talk when I finally relaxed, my adrenaline levels dropped and the shaking disappeared. 

I felt elated afterwards. This was the scariest thing I’d done since forming my company and I’d got through it.

The final hurdle?

Just before Christmas, I was approached by Bristol University's Faculty of Engineering to run a two-hour storytelling session. I'd never worked with more than eight people at a time before, let alone 27. Just thinking about it scared the cr*p out of me. Only this time, I remembered back to how the shaking had stopped five minutes in and decided to fully embrace the opportunity. I trusted it would be OK. And do you know what? It was.

But what’s interesting is this. The University only found me because there was information about my previous talk online. If I'd listened to my fears and cancelled, I wouldn't have got the gig. 

Somone once told me that all emotions come from either fear or love – and all fear is just an illusion anyway. Putting yourself 'out there' to speak in public feels scary for many people. But that's just an ancient flight, fight or freeze thing we've got going on. Reading The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters before the seminar certainly helped with that.

But if I can feel the fear and do it anyway, so can you.

George Addair put it best when he said: ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear’.

I'll see you there. 

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