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The Scary Side of Speaking

Updated: May 23, 2022

I miss the Fall; my ideal temperature is 61 degrees, sunny, blue skies, crisp air, hoodie-jean weather, with a pumpkin-maple-vanilla bullshit (thank you Larry David) in my hand.

Is it too early to talk about Halloween? I love a good scare, and horror movies, although I watch them with all the lights on and the volume on 2 (out of 50), and pause frequently to pump myself up to keep watching.

All things frightening and spooky is not limited to the silver screen; there really are some frightening things out there in the speaking world! Gosh...have you ever been in the room when a performance goes wrong, or a speaker flops?! Talk about terrifying!! I'm being a little dramatic of course, but that's the fun of Halloween...going all out with costumes, candy snacking, or pushing your limits with a scary movie.

We can learn a lot from the things that scare us, and you can use this knowledge when you prepare your presentation. If you're able to objectively think about what it means to be "scared," it actually makes good sense: a story worth listening to pushes our limits, makes us a little uncomfortable, and ultimately helps us realize new and exciting things about ourselves.

I would even argue that great presentations are founded on the scarier moments of a speakers' life; when he/she summoned previously unknown courage to learn, grow, and ultimately package and artfully retell as entertaining wisdom. Consider the stories of these fantastic speakers, who faced unimaginable life circumstances and now have remarkable stories to tell:

Grant Korgan, who recovered from a spinal-cord injury to break amazing ground as an athlete and adventurer.

Brenda Combs, Ed.D., lived homeless under a bridge in Phoenix, AZ for 10 years, who despite being a single mother, having a child with special needs, and working three jobs, she turned her life around as well as earning her Doctorate in Education.

Amy Silverstein, a heart-transplant survivor, who chronicled her life-battling experience in her memoir Sick Girl.

Victor Rivas Rivers, a child abuse survivor who witnessed horrific domestic violence growing up in South Florida, who made his way the NFL, Hollywood, and became a national spokesman to end family violence.

Do you need a traumatic life moment to be a great speaker? Absolutely, not. Should you have to compare your fears to others' for validation? Not in the slightest. And for many, SPEAKING is the thing that frightens us the most. Stage Fright, also known as glossophobia, is a real thing, is considered a social anxiety disorder, and it affects about 73% of the population (National Social Anxiety Center, February, 2017) . And, if you feel your fear of speaking is a clinical matter, then by all means considering finding a therapist.

But, if you're looking for non-clinical, everyday tactics to help reduce your fear of speaking, consider these resources below. You'll find many of these tips have much to do with preparation and rehearsal; because, you should only take the stage when you're absolutely ready-the audience deserves your best! Find a way to make their day!

  • Mikael Cho's TED-Ed talk on "The science of stage fright (and how to overcome it)." (2013)

  • Toastmasters International: with over 360,000 members and over 16,000 clubs across 145 countries, this non-profit is an effective and affordable option for developing and improving speaking skills.

  • Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P. of the Mayo Clinic: "Fear of public speaking: How can I overcome it?" (2017)

  • Digital Marketing and SEO professional Darrell Zahorsky's "7 Tips to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking," (2019) as featured on The Balance Small Business, a site for guiding folks into best practices for entrepreneurship.

  • 8 deep breathing exercises for anxiety, posted on Healthline in 2019 by expert business writer Ana Gotter and reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP.

  • Green Room Speakers' Sarah Gershman's article on Harvard Business Review "To Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking, Stop Thinking About Yourself" (2019)

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