When it comes to public speaking, and in particular the fear of public speaking, I’ve heard some wild things. “I wish I could give my speech in the dark.” “I wish I could be invisible when I have to give a speech.” I’ve yet to hear anyone say that they wish they could give a speech that no one can hear, so there’s obviously something about being seen by and audience that strikes fear in the hearts of many.
There are a number of things that cause the fear of public speaking but they generally fall into one of three categories:
With Halloween right around the corner, I couldn’t resist having a little fun and hypothetically giving advice to someone who might consider such a crazy thing. Beware of actual useful advice about dealing with the fear of public speaking creeping up on you.
Fear of the Unknown:
Not knowing who will be in your audience, how they might react and how things may turn out is a legitimate concern that nearly all speakers, including experienced ones, face. Although some might find a mask to be more of a security blanket or perhaps a barrier between the speaker and the audience, the act of hiding behind anything will not change the fact that you won’t know who will show up, how you’ll perform and how the audience reacts to your talk.
Fear of Failure:
No one wants to embarrass themselves, especially in front of a large group of people. But it’s a lot more difficult to embarrass yourself than you think. Speakers tend to forget that in most cases, the audience doesn’t have a copy of your speech to read along with as you speak. Most of the embarrassing moments that I’ve witnessed during speeches have come from poor judgment by the speaker when writing the speech — usually including inappropriate humor or including a questionable topic. People tripping on stage, freezing up or completely botching up their talks are rather rare. More common are losing one’s place, a technical malfunction or mispronouncing a word and in most cases, only the speaker remembers them more than a few minutes after a speech.
Considering that many people who give speeches do not possess the greatest presentation skills, what the speaker perceives as a poor personal performance might be just a typical presentation to the audience. I’ve heard a number of folks through the years say generalized statements like “most speakers are boring.”
So what does wearing a mask buy you? Well, if the audience knows you (or even just your name), they may wonder why you’d want to address them in a silly costume. So although they can’t see you, they still know who you are (especially if you’ve provided a decent speech introduction). Your mask may restrict your view of the audience, but your costume could be a tripping hazard or restrict your movement. So instead of insulating you from failure, it’ll increase your chances.
Lack of Confidence:
It’s tough to watch people with good presentation skills without expecting ourselves to speak that way. Speaking seems like it should be a lot easier than it actually is. Perhaps dressing up like the speaker you admire would channel that person (or possibly fool the audience so the other person can take the blame if things go poorly).
Although lack of confidence does at times have to do with one’s perception of their speaking skills, it also can pertain to a person’s fear that they don’t have the necessary expertise to speak on a particular subject. I suppose that a mask or the right costume could be used to keep notes in a handy place. However, nothing replaces true expertise so keep in mind the concept that Dale Carnegie tried to hit home in his classes that you must earn the right to speak.
Putting it all together:
Of course we all know that wearing your Halloween costume on stage can only make things worse, but I hope this off-the-wall article got you thinking a bit more about your fear or discomfort related to public speaking. To deal with any fear, you need to understand what you fear, motivate yourself to overcome it and then take the appropriate action to overcome it. Although most people know that wearing a costume (or speaking in the dark, etc…) are silly ideas, sometimes they try things like having an alcoholic drink to relax before a speech. This is as big a mistake as coming out dressed up as Count Dracula. Preparing well, practicing enough and putting yourself in the right state of mind are often enough to get you through those first few awkward moments. Then you’ll get comfortable and the rest of your talk will go smoothly.