Overcoming my Fear of Public Speaking

Have you ever felt fear?

Perhaps it was a school play where you were desperate to deliver that line perfectly. Perhaps it was an interview for college, university, employment or an important presentation at work. Perhaps it was a hot first date where you were keen to make a good impression. Perhaps it was speaking at a wedding or funeral.

What do all the examples I have just cited have in common? They all involve something in which we were fearless as children and now dread as adults: speaking in front of other people.

It was a cold, grey, wet Tuesday morning. I was sixteen years old. Two weeks prior, I had been ‘volunteered’ to deliver a 10-minute presentation in an assembly to 300 of my peers.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

I remember an endless sea of orange plastic chairs. I remember those pairs of eyes burning into my skin. I remember the uncomfortable whispers and shuffling as I proceeded to crumble and mumble my may through that presentation. I remember the crippling anxiety and physical symptoms I suffered with before and for a long time following – some of which I’d rather not disclose.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

I thought, being sixteen at the time, that this was simply a case of nerves that would get better as I got older. It didn’t. It got worse.

A year later, I somehow got a hot first date. Don’t ask me how – I still don’t know. At the restaurant, the chicken arrived – pink in the middle. Two choices: eat it or call over the waiter and complain.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

Petrified by the thought of making a scene, I ate the chicken and got food poisoning.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

I fumbled my way through an interview for an entry-level marketing job – nine hours a day talking to nobody but a screen. Until they changed my job specification and put me on the phones. Every time I lifted that receiver: sheer, unbridled panic. I quit the job.

But that’s normal, isn’t it? Public speaking makes you nervous.

Being ginger was suddenly no longer the greatest problem of my life. I thought to myself: How will I ever have a career, a relationship or a family if I can’t speak to other people?

The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have one. I had one. I couldn’t speak. I had a fear I needed to lose and a voice I needed to find.

I started a new career – as a Teaching Assistant in a local secondary school. Moved by stories of young people working through their own challenges, I started working on my own. I read every book and watched every video I could find. I went to seminars and workshops. Then, in August 2015, I attended my first Toastmasters meeting.

Sheer, unbridled panic.

But this time, it was different. This time, there were people who understood my anxiety and shared similar experiences. This time, there were people to guide me through every meeting, every role and every speech. This time, there were people just like me. I felt at home.

Inspired by these experiences, I completed an Open University degree in English alongside full-time work. I qualified as an English teacher and now present to students and staff every day. I am now completing a master’s degree and, last year, was examined in Grade 8 Public Speaking by the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – and achieved distinction.

Oh, and that hot first date when I ate the under-cooked chicken? We are about to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary and have two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. I spoke at our wedding. We are learning the never-ending importance of speaking – to each other and our children.

If I can do it, you can too. I was once afraid beyond my ability to describe. Am I still scared? Yes. Am I still vulnerable? Yes. Can I now stand and speak to a group of people? YES.

If I can do this now, ask yourself: what can you do?

One thought on “Overcoming my Fear of Public Speaking

  1. Great post Simon. Having such fear’s a great motivator – usually to run away! So credit to you for taming it. I appreciate you sharing so openly about your speaking journey.

    You might be interested in this review of a video on public-speaking fear. The video’s a very professional one, by Toastmasters International. I was struck, though, that it took a long time before getting to the tips it suggests. 

    See what you think. (You’ll also find a link to a video of Nancy Duarte talking about eye contact for speakers.)


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