Updated: Jan 11
Did you know that three out of four adults say their #1 fear is public speaking? That’s right! 75% of adults fear public speaking more than they fear death! If you are one of them, you are not alone, and I am here to help.
I started performing when I was three years old, and no profession requires more self-doubt management than acting. My job is literally done on stage, in front of an audience. Many people who struggle with public speaking and their confidence in the spotlight think that actors never get nervous. That could not be further from the truth. I have experienced nerves so bad I needed to take Immodium to get onstage. In addition to the nerves taking your first step on stage evokes, actors have to find the courage to audition for the part in the first place.
It requires enormous grit to walk into hundreds of auditions for the sole purpose of being judged on your looks, talent, and personality. Statistically speaking, actors have to audition between 150-200 times before they land a role. Imagine the amount of self- doubt that rises up with that amount of consistent rejection. A professional actor’s emotional capacity is immense, and the real talent they should give awards out for is GRIT.
Being an actor and coaching adults and teams for 15 years has taught me how to conquer my fears, and now I want to help you do it. So how can you overcome your fear of public speaking?
Step 1 - Face the Real Fear
The first step is to understand what this fear is really about. It is not actually a fear of standing in front of people or talking aloud. The same rational adults that report this fear carry on conversations in public every day. The fear of public speaking is really the fear of being judged. It is the fear of having your credibility questioned, your delivery and appearance scrutinized, or seeming less intelligent on the topic than someone else. You are afraid of the audience judging you that way because you are questioning, scrutinizing, and judging yourself. Your fear of public speaking is the manifestation of your own self-doubt. That inner voice that says, “I’m not good enough.” Also known as Imposter Syndrome. This is a scientifically proven, psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills, talents or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” And we all experience it at times.
Step 2- Remember, the Audience is On your Side.
Just think about it. Have you ever sat in the audience before a performance or presentation and thought, “I can’t wait to judge the person coming out?” Do you sit there thinking, “I hope they fail” or “I hope this is the worst presentation ever”? No, you do not. You sit in anticipation, hoping to be inspired, entertained, or at least informed and taught something. Your audience is rooting for you to do well. The only person worried about failing is you.
Step 3 - Expect the Self-Doubt
Self-doubt is going to rise up. The imposter’s voice rises up in everyone. Even Michelle Obama continues to deal with self-doubt as she graciously shared in her book, Becoming, which I highly recommend. There are moments and situations in every person’s life that makes us doubt ourselves. A public speaking situation pretty much guarantees it. It may manifest itself in various ways, including, nerves and anxiety like hands shaking, voice trembling, dizziness, and shortness of breath. It may show up as a voice in your head asking all the What if’s: “What if I mess up,” “What if I lose my place” “What if I freeze,” etc. If you anticipate these symptoms and know what to do when they rise up, you can manage them better.
Step 4) Be Your Own Best Friend
So what do you do when the self-doubt manifests? First, you acknowledge it for what it is—a normal human response to the situation. I like to remind myself that even Michelle Obama worries she’s not good enough sometimes, and she is incredible.
Then you call bull-shit on the doubts. The imposter thoughts are just not true. They are fake news. If we spoke to our friends or colleagues the way we speak to ourselves, we’d be fired and friendless. If your best friend came to you and said, I’m really nervous about this presentation, and I don’t think I can do it. What would you tell them? When the What If’s and negative thoughts rise up, you need to talk to yourself as if you are talking to your best friend. I recommend writing down what you would say and then reading it back to yourself. Save your notes for the next time the imposter tries to weigh in.
Step 5) Find a Mantra
Chances are you gave yourself some excellent advice when you pretended to talk to your best friend. A great trick that can help you replace the imposter’s voice is to find a positive mantra. A simple sentence that you can repeat to yourself over and over again when the self-doubt rises up. I recommend writing a few of them down in a journal to refer back to when the nerves kick in.
Managing self-doubt is an ongoing process. You will find that different mantras help you in different situations. For example, when I was first starting out and standing in front of rooms full of Executives, or experts in industries outside my field, I could easily feel intimidated. So, I would remind myself that I am an expert when it comes to this particular topic. I would repeat to myself, “I know I know more about this than they do.” That would give me the courage I needed.