Conquering Fear

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Would you like to overcome anxiety?

The only antidote to fear is consistent, repetitive, courageous action.

The majority of people avoid public speaking. They fear it more than death.

  • Are you one of the people who are afraid of public speaking?
  • Would you like to overcome it?
  • Do your hands shake?
  • Can you feel your throat tighten?
  • Does your voice feel weak?
  • Can you feel your voice quiver?
  • Does your heart pound so hard you can hear it?

Yes to all? Me too.

I don’t get the chance to speak in public often, but when I do, I always get symptoms of fear. That’s why I accept every opportunity I have to speak in public.

Let me give you a quick anecdote.

At a recent holiday party, an employee who reports to me was about to win an award. I asked my boss, “Who’s going to do the speech?”

He said, “I can, unless you want to.”

I thought about it a minute. The pain averse part of me wanted to say, “Okay, you do it.” But that would have been the chicken shit thing to do, right? You don’t grow if you avoid discomfort. So I said, “I’ll do it.”

Shortly after accepting responsibility I felt my heart accelerate and my palms start sweating. What a strange subconscious reaction. I wasn’t consciously afraid of anything.

Why should I be afraid? I was President of Toastmasters in High School, I’ve taken multiple college level public speaking courses, I’ve spoken to public school administrators about the social and intellectual damage institutionalizing our children has caused, and I’ve spoken to political conventions on several occasions.

Rock Stars Accept Their Fear

The biggest obstacle to overcoming fear is failure to accept it. Speech coaches have told me I may never overcome the fear of speaking. Some people don’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t perform. Rock Star David Lee Roth of Van Halen said he was never able to rid himself of stage fright, he overcame it by re-framing it as a natural “high” he looked forward to. If a rock star who has performed nightly for decades still feels stage fright, I suppose it is reasonable for me to feel stage fright.

So in that moment I accepted my fear, stood up, said a short improv piece, everyone applauded, and I sat down.

I didn’t pass out. I didn’t say anything embarrassing. I didn’t draw a blank. I didn’t ramble on. It went fine.

Re-Framing Fear

When I sat down, I grabbed my fork and and I noticed my hand shaking.

I looked at the executive next me and said, “Look at that. I’m shaking. It always happens when I speak in front of a group.”

She said, “Don’t worry about it, if you didn’t shake, you’d lose your edge. Keep your edge. It is only a little adrenaline.”

She re-framed what I viewed as a weakness into a strength.

This principle not only applies to public speaking, but nearly all anxiety.

Don’t let your fear win. When you give in to fear, and avoid it or suppress it, the result is always more intense fear. The best way to create a phobia is to start avoiding little things that make you
mildly uncomfortable.

For example, maybe you’re shy in social situations so you avoid them. But if you want to become more socially adept, you have to face your fear directly, don’t expect it to go away, accept it, feel it fully, and act anyway.

Look Your Fear in the Eye

If you consistently avoid social situations, when you do find yourself in a social situation your anxiety will be more intense than ever, and you may find yourself on a long slide toward agoraphobia.

However, if you repetitively engage in as many social situations as possible and face your feelings with courage, you will find ways to re-frame your feelings into a positive experience.

5 thoughts on “Conquering Fear”

  1. I was in a college theatre company and I’ve also MC’ed a few events for our school, and with those many year’s of experience, I still find myself shaking before taking the stage. I think it’s part nervousness, but also part excitement. And after I take the stage, those things usually just go away (if it doesn’t go away completely, at least it doesn’t show). It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if I didn’t do that, then maybe I didn’t care enough.

    But anxieties are only good if they don’t prolong. If you can’t never get rid of the anxieties, that might not be something good. However, it’s good to know that you are aware of your own anxiety, and you see that you can overcome it.

  2. Kelvin,

    I usually get the fear just before speaking, it then disappears… and I get into flow… But when I’m in flow, I go a bit unconscious and that just adds to the unknown, and that can be frightening too.

    I understand what you are saying about anxiety when prolonged. That’s why you have to face it when it is being born, when it is new. Then it won’t be prolonged.

  3. I have been told the more public speaking you do, the better you become. I don’t know how true this is. Like you said, you were scarred despite the fact you have been giving a lot of speech before. But at least you made it through.

  4. I love reading about this topic.

    A major reason people dwell inside of their fears is because they don’t trust themselves to be okay at the end. Of course, this always turns out to be an empty fear in itself.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *