It’s one of the most common fears in the world. Public speaking. Presenting to a group of people. But why do people rank it so highly as a terrifying experience? But think about it… What are you actually scared of it? You won’t die. Where does this fear of presenting come from?
I bet if you think back to when you were a kid you weren’t scared of performing. In my house we used to refer to the bottom step on the stairs as the “stage” because I would regularly put on a performance. I remember in primary school I was picked to be narrator in the school play (one of the main speaking parts) because I was so confident and I was good at reading! Fast forward to my professional life and I would be filled with terror on a Sunday night because I had to present sales figures on Monday morning to 7 people (yes seven, not seventy, not seven hundred. SEVEN.)
In this post, I’m asking you a couple of questions to drill in to the drivers of your fear of presenting. Get your notepad out and brainstorm the answers to these questions.
What are you actually afraid of?
Literally nothing that is actually damaging to your physical health can come of you delivering a presentation. Take 5 mins and jot down the worst case scenario that could come from your presentation. Maybe you’re afraid that you’ll forget what you were going to say and be embarrassed? Or maybe you’re afraid that you’ll say something wrong and people won’t agree with you. But if that happens, what is the worst consequence? Can you flip it on it’s head and say “well at least I’ll learn something”?
What was your original incident?
So, if we know that we weren’t afraid as kids. When did we start to become so afraid? Was there a point when you were up on the stair-stage in your house and your mum told you to BE QUIET because she’d heard the same song 37 times and just wanted some peace and quiet? Did you (like me) sing a song in a school play and accidentally miss out 3 verses (obviously to the whole audience, it was like singing ten green bottles and forgetting about 6, 7, and 8 green bottles), which your teacher pointed out and made you do the whole thing again, in front of all of those people? Take some time to think back whether you had any similarly embarrassing moments? First of all… What were they and how have they impacted your confidence since then. But secondly… What was the actual consequence? Do you think that anyone but you remembers now? And even if they do… Does it matter?
Listen to feedback
I bet at some point over your working life somebody has given you some positive feedback about presenting. Whether it’s a manager or someone more junior than you that is even further behind on the presenting journey. You will have heard at least one positive thing. What did you do with that feedback. Did you internalise it and think “yeah, I am quite good at that”? If you’re anything like me you may have said to yourself “yeah, but that was easy, anyone could have done that“, or “they’re just being nice because I really did such a bad job and they don’t want to tell me”.
Let’s think about those comments for a second:
“It was easy, anyone could have done that“
This was one of the more common ways that I used to dismiss compliments until about 18 months ago when I was listening to a podcast about confidence and the presenter pointed out how arrogant it is. Think about it, somebody is very kindly complimenting you, perhaps showing their own vulnerability in telling you how hard they would find it to do what you have done. And internally, you dismiss their compliment. That was a real eye opener for me and helped me to accept and internalise compliments when they come.
“They’re just being nice because I actually did a really bad job and they don’t want to tell me”
Again, think about it. Who would actually go out of their way to lie to you to make you feel better? If it’s coming from someone more senior than you, it’s actually their job to give you real feedback – to be constructive if it’s required and to give you positive feedback when it’s earned. It is in nobody’s interests for you to be running around thinking you’re great if you aren’t. What’s realistically more likely… That people are lying to you to be nice, or that you’re actually good at this?
Whatever your version of the above comments are, write them down and stress test them. Are they likely to be true? How do you internalise the positive feedback and learn from the constructive feedback to overcome your fear of presenting?
I hope you’ve found the above exercises useful. If 2021 is the year that you finally want to kick the fear of presenting to the curb then make sure you follow them. I also have a presentation skills masterclass workbook that you can use to work through your demons and unlock some practical hints and tips to make you feel better about it. Check it out here: Present with confidence
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