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How I Overcame My Fear of Public Speaking - and You Can Too

communication presentation skills public speaking public speaking coach speaking coaching speech coaching Oct 31, 2021

Perhaps it was a school play where you were desperate to deliver that line perfectly. Perhaps it was an interview for college, university, employment or an important presentation at work. Perhaps it was a hot first date where you were keen to make a good impression. Perhaps it was speaking at a wedding or funeral.

What do all the examples I have just cited have in common? They all involve something in which we were fearless as children and now dread as adults: speaking in front of other people.

Avoiding situations that create discomfort is not a permanent strategy. Life is richer and more fulfilling on the other side of overcoming our fears.

It was a cold, grey, wet Tuesday morning. I was sixteen years old. Two weeks prior, I had been ‘volunteered’ to deliver a 10-minute presentation in an assembly to 300 of my peers.

On my own.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

I remember an endless sea of orange plastic chairs. I remember those pairs of eyes burning into my skin. I remember the uncomfortable whispers and shuffling as I proceeded to crumble and mumble my may through that presentation. I remember the crippling anxiety and physical symptoms I suffered with before and for a long time following – some of which I’d rather not disclose.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

I thought, being sixteen at the time, that this was simply a case of nerves that would get better as I got older.

It didn’t. It got worse.

We have all felt feelings of fear and apprehension, but they can be overcome with the right support and managing expectations appropriately.

A year later, I somehow got a hot first date. Don’t ask me how – I still don’t know — but I do believe in miracles. At the restaurant, the chicken arrived – pink in the middle. Two choices: eat it or call over the waiter and complain.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

Petrified by the thought of making a scene, I ate the chicken — and got food poisoning.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

I fumbled my way through an interview for an entry-level marketing job – nine hours a day talking to nobody but a screen. Until they changed my job specification and put me on the phones. Every time I lifted that receiver: sheer, unbridled panic. I quit the job.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

Being ginger was suddenly no longer the greatest problem of my life. I thought to myself: How will I ever have a career, a relationship or a family if I can’t speak to other people?

The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have one. I had one. I couldn’t speak. I had a fear I needed to lose and a voice I needed to find.

People cannot help with a problem they do not know about. Communication — and getting the right support — is the key to combating feelings of fear and anxiety.

I started a new career – as a Teaching Assistant in a local secondary school. Moved by stories of young people working through their own challenges, I started working on my own. I read every book and watched every video I could find. I went to seminars and workshops, sitting silently at the back and furiously scribbling notes. I went to counselling. Then, in August 2015, I attended my first Toastmasters meeting.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

But this time, it was different. This time, there were people who understood my anxiety and shared similar experiences. This time, there were people to guide me through every meeting, every role and every speech. This time, there were people just like me. I felt at home.

Inspired by these experiences, I completed an Open University degree in English alongside full-time work. I qualified as an English teacher and now present to students and staff every day. I now hold a master’s degree in creative writing and storytelling, which has helped me appreciate the stories of others and learn how to both tell my own and help others to tell theirs. Last year, I was examined in Grade 8 Public Speaking by the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – and achieved distinction. I now work as a communications and presentation coach, helping others overcome their own fears to become more powerful communicators and leaders. And I love it.

Oh, and that hot first date when I ate the under-cooked chicken? We married in 2013  and have two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. We are learning the never-ending importance of communicating openly about our concerns, fears, joys and hopes – with each other and our children.

If I can do it, you can too. I was once afraid beyond my ability to describe. Am I still scared? Yes. Am I still vulnerable? Yes. Can I now stand and speak to a group of people? YES.

If I can do this now from where I started, ask yourself: with the right help and the right opportunities, what can I do?

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