I've got two older brothers and they loved Dr Who (the original one with William Hartnell). The problem was I was only 4 back in 1963. I found it way too scary and hid behind the sofa until the dreaded programme was over. Like me not facing the daleks, one of the easiest ways of tackling public speaking fear is hiding away or just not doing it.
And lots of people use that effective strategy so they don't feel have to feel vulnerable. The problem is that avoidance is though easier in the short run, closes down your life options. On my public speaking courses I have had people who have dropped out of university, not gone for job promotion, chosen courses without tutorials on them, avoided asking their girlfriend to marry them for 15 years, not having wedding photographs on their big day and so on and so on.
Avoidance can cost you big time.
I've seen so many people choose avoidance. And I've been an avoider myself. 25 years ago I didn't like public speaking at all after I messed up a Radio interview badly. I dodged offers to speak up and represent my publishing business. I let my dad down because I was too scared to stand up and wish him "happy birthday" in front of 15 people. Luckily I came across the course I now teach and that made all the difference.
What I have learnt since then is that avoidance actually makes the fear grow. Avoidance isn’t the solution, it’s actually the problem. We spend so much time planning how to avoid even the possibility of having to make a speech we can tie ourselves in knots.
I agree with Harriet Lerner, clinical psychologist, when she writes;
“It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your daily life. Rather, the problem is avoidance. You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions. Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run but, it will never make you less afraid.”
We need to learn to approach the fear - to face it directly. So that we can learn to soothe it, we can learn to make it far smaller, more manageable. So fear becomes close to feelings of excitement and feeling more alive. A self-help book might say "i want you to make friends with fear" but I'm going to go a step further. I want you to snog fear and yes even use tongues!
Perhaps tongues is going a little too far but unless we face the fear of public speaking directly we are going to lead far smaller lives. We need to change our relationship to fear. It’s what experienced public speakers do.
But you don't have to tackle this fear just by plunging into it.
Take the advice of Susan Cain. She's the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and an introvert herself, is now a professional public speaker.
" I really had to desensitize myself to my fears of public speaking. I did that by practicing in very small, very supportive and very low-speed environments where it didn’t matter if I screwed up. And eventually you get used to the strange feeling of being looked at, which used to make me feel horrified. You become accustomed to it over time and your fear dissipates."
So fears can get smaller but I promise you, they won't, if you are still hiding behind the sofa! You have to face it and then life can start!