So you’ve heard (or read) me say it over and over again that the only way to overcome your fear of public speaking is to get up there and speak. Like telling someone not to rub their eyes, it’s easy to say but not so easy to do. Just keep in mind that the hardest step to take (and the most terrifying one) is that first step. After that step, everything gets easier.
Taking that first step:
There are two things you need to know about yourself to take that first step. The first is what is motivating you to take that first step. What will you gain by taking this step? What will you lose by not taking it? Why do you feel the need to take this step?
Only you can answer this question because you know what works (and what doesn’t) for you. If you can’t find any benefit in taking this step, you won’t feel motivated to take it. Instead, you’ll find excuse after excuse to keep putting it off and then eventually accept it as a weakness that you can’t overcome.
The second thing you need to know about yourself is your tolerance for moving outside of your comfort zone. Some people are able to take that leap of faith and take a huge first step while others prefer baby steps. An example of this would be committing to speak at big conference in your area of expertise because it forces you to do something about your fear. If that seems too extreme, you could start out with a five minute presentation at work to your immediate work group. Again, you know what works best for you so push yourself so you’re beyond your comfort zone, but not to the point where you find it a traumatic experience.
The second step:
The second step is almost always easier than the first one, even if only by 1%. So if you’ve given that first speech, you’ve walked away with some experience and, if it went okay, a confidence boost. But the cool thing is that your mind subconsciously knows that you can handle it, so the panic that you felt the first time won’t be as strong, and in some cases might not even be there at all.
The only time it’s more difficult to take that second step is if something goes wrong during the first step. Perhaps you forgot part of your speech, your voice cracked or something else happened that embarrassed you. In this case, you need to repeat step one but on a smaller scale. I remember making a mistake during a speech in high school where I got laughed at until the teacher saved me by making me stop. It took me years to get over it and as I look back, I’m more embarrassed about how long it took me to get over it than I am about what actually happened.
Again, only you can decide when a bad memory becomes a distant memory but don’t make the mistake I did and wait too long. Try it again after a month. All you need is one success to make all the past mistakes go away.
Steps three and beyond:
After two successes, regardless of whether they are small or not, you’re on your way to success. Try to push yourself a little harder with each successive step and don’t be afraid to take risks.
You’ll encounter setbacks and make mistakes, but it’s okay – it’s all part of the learning experience. Don’t allow these mistakes bring you back to where you started because you’ve worked hard to get here. Instead look at mistakes and setbacks as learning experiences. What did you learn from them? What would you have done differently? How can you do things better in the future?
Mistakes are often a good thing because they ultimately make you stronger. As you survive bigger mistakes, smaller ones seem to not bother you at all. And you also find taking risks a lot easier because you’ve already experienced the worst that could happen – and you survived it!
Keep in mind that although this article is geared towards public speaking, it can be applied to any challenge that requires you to move beyond your comfort zone. Stay positive, stay focused and remember that if you want something bad enough, you’ll be able to achieve it.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.