Speaking to an audience is quite arguably one of the scariest endeavors one can face. Many say, ‘I have a fear of public speaking’, but I contend ‘they have many fears of public speaking’. One such fear is the fear of failure. The following paragraphs describe what the fear of failure feels like to me.
It’s a huge rock. A boulder if you will. Dark grey, cool to the touch and heavy. So heavy I am straining to hold it and I pull it close to me for better leverage. My breath is restricted as I shift under its weight. My shoulders all knots. I cannot seem to put this musty, dirty thing down. I can’t see around it and I’m losing sight of my path. I wander this way and that and look up to try to gain some clarity. I’m even more disoriented now.
When I first grabbed hold of it, (the fear of failure) it was just a pebble. It felt nice to have something to hold on to. It grounded me and made me feel safe. Over time it grew, but by then I felt secure and comfortable with my familiar rock. Others would comment on how nice it must be and I hugged it with appreciation. Eventually, it got too big to take outside with me. I decided it was best to stay home and set it on my lap. It was more comfortable then having to carry it.
I didn’t realize that staying indoors only made it grow bigger. I wanted to leave it behind to go out for walk, but I couldn’t move. Panic set in and, again I stayed put. The bigger the rock got the more I shrank.
One day my favorite client called to talk about a presentation he wanted me to deliver. My excitement turned to dread when reality sunk in. How would I present while holding onto this huge fear of failure? I was scared. What if the person they remember is no longer here? What if I traded all that I was for the safety this rock provides? What if the part of me that is being called forth has been crushed beneath its weight?
I cling even tighter knowing I have a decision to make. Either I must face fear completely exposed and vulnerable on my own or I continue to embrace the crushing comfort of safety until I am unrecognizable.
We are human and we will fear failure. At times it will be easier to succumb to failure than to embrace expansion. To give up or to give in can be easier than stepping out into the unknown with all the world’s possibility in front of you. So, I ask you, is it really a fear of failure or a fear of expansion that haunts you?
I realize now that the audience holds immense power. Rather than underestimate its strength or completely avoid it I’ve learned to embrace it. A simple shift in perspective makes all the difference in turning my adversary into my advocate.
What makes speaking so nerve racking for me and many others is the idea that this is the very first time in front of this particular audience, sharing this content, in this space and time. It’s all new and largely unknown. Not being able to recognize anything as familiar is a uniquely terrifying experience.
The fear of criticism can have us scrambling to fit in. When we take the stage; however, we are standing tall. The stage requires acceptance of self and others and that takes courage.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t know enough to speak to an audience, you are definitely not alone. This can be a motivator to do what’s necessary to get ready, but more times than not it becomes the reason some don’t make it to the front of the room. So how do you know if you know enough?
When I tell people, I teach presentation skills for a living they often recoil before my eyes. As if I might call on them to speak if they hang around too long. They go on to explain they would rather die than have to speak in front of an audience. When they’ve adequately expressed themselves, their apprehension is replaced by a mystical glare as they begin to ask what would possess me to take this on as a career.
I was just seventeen years old when I took my place on the stage behind the lectern. I could feel the heat rising in my body, slowly at first, then suddenly it was like I was plunged into a hot dunk tank of fear and anxiety. My heart was pumping out of my chest and I was certain the thump, thump, thump was being amplified through the microphone.
I encounter it all the time. The look of concern and apprehension as my client confesses to me that they are an introvert. Their eyes tell me – “I’m sorry. This isn’t going to be easy. I sure hope you are up for the challenge.”
There is no mystery as to why we avoid leading at the front of the room at all costs. It can be completely terrifying and anxiety producing. In fact, I personally struggled and squirmed at the mere mention of having to speak to groups early in my career.
I believe in connections. Recently, as a TED Talk filled my earbuds with the voice of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I was introduced to the concept of coming home. She spoke of the overwhelming success she experienced after publishing her book Eat, Pray, Love and how it felt nothing would ever top that, or compete with it.
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Sara Krisher's background in corporate sales has allowed her the privilege to connect with people at all levels within organizations. She's had the opportunity to hear the struggles and challenges many face on a daily basis. Constant pressure and expectations can steer us off course and have us abandoning our purpose. Sara believes with confidence we can make the difference we were meant to make in life and is devoted to evoking courage in others through speaking and coaching.