Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Face Your Fears

We have all heard this said to people. We all have said it to someone else. We have all had it said to us. In two of these scenarios it makes perfect sense that the fear must be faced, but in the other you begin to wonder whether it should be adhered to.

I don’t know if everyone is as clear about their biggest fear as me, or whether it is similar in how it may present itself. But mine is very distinct. I have a fear of public speaking. I really fall apart when a certain degree of attention is paid to me. It becomes worse if the situation is professional. Worse still if I am visible. Basically the fear arises at the idea of looking nervous in front of people while I talk or present something. This fear of appearing nervous then causes me to be nervous, which then feeds the fear, which feeds the nerves, which feeds the fear, which feeds the nerves, which- well you get the point.

The vicious circle makes no sense at all. It is like the old belief that you have to invite a vampire into your house before it can enter and kill you. Simple right? Don’t invite any vampires in, right? It's as if I was wandering the theme park of life and spotted a ride called the Nervepool. It’s like a whirlpool and when you jump in you just spin around and around feeling more and more sick. The guy warned me that once you go in it’s fucking tough to get out, but I jumped in anyway. And now as I try to stay afloat I- you know what, let’s stick with the vampire analogy.

So how did this start? In primary school I did speeches for fun. I remember a school play I did. I was the main character! Before the play the second lead looked around the curtain and said “Look at all the people out there!” I saw them and was just puzzled. Who cares? I thought. That was all I thought about it: Who cares? I went out there and killed.

Then I got to high school and had no friends. I shrank into my shell a lot as I started to perceive myself as a person whose actions have consequences. My first speech in English was fine until about 3 minutes in. My hands began to shake. Now my hands shake naturally; even when I’m not nervous; sometimes even when I’m confident. But when I thought of how embarrassing it was I bailed on my speech. I cut it short by two speech cards and sat down. Big Mistake! I had jumped in the Nervepool!!! The next time I had a speech all I could think of was my hands shaking. All I wanted was out. I got more and more nervous. I did more handshaking in any given speech than Barack Obama on the campaign trail. My speeches got shorter and I avoided the spotlight like a…well like a vampire. Bigger Mistake!

This compounded into being afraid to even read out in class. This fear plagued my whole schooling life. I have a few white hairs in my thick cranial crop and I think I know where they came from.

Eventually I found the need to act. Interviews for jobs in business suck balls. Group activities, panel room speeches, presentations. Beyond me. So back in 2007 when I did a bunch of these I managed to get some pills subscribed that mask the physical signs of nerves and magically I didn’t feel any nerves. Problem solved! But not really. I can’t take these pills my whole life. I have a dream of living a pure life with a pure body. No drugs; Just happiness. No hiding or masking fear. Plus there were only fifty pills in a bottle.

I got through the interviews with no problems. Except that I got no jobs. I realised that I need nerves. We need fear to motivate us. When someone is trying to kill us our heart speeds up and adrenaline shoots through the body. Likewise when I have to talk in front of people the body wants me to be alert. It needs to open up but I react as though I am being restricted. This starts the chain and I meltdown.

The worst part of it all, however, isn’t the actual process. It is the build up. Every day the feeling of dread grows. Every day I lose more appetite and shrink further into my shell. I can see myself standing up there looking like an idiot. Great preparation.

Well it is time to step up. I have one of these big interview days tomorrow. Yeah I am nervous. No I am not taking any pills. But I need to beat this while I’m still young. One of my beliefs is that if you do something 100 times you become good at it. So I may not be great this first time but I will be better. Why should I fear getting better? Confidence is the key; One thing I learned from performing on stage. Before the first Vienna Circus gig I was nervous but I stayed in control and when my hands began to shake on stage I just worked through it. I actually played better. In fact it is when I get too cocky that I make mistakes. I think I’m the shit then miss the next 4 notes.

So tomorrow if I don’t get nervous and sweaty then I must realise that my mind is not perfectly on the job. And if I fuck up horribly then it won’t be too bad cos I don’t even want the job that I am applying for.

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld

What’s your biggest fear?

- Eden (while listening to All Things Must Pass by George Harrison)


  1. Man that was great, thanks for sharing. I've found that through my experience with the corporate world, interviews, group discussions, meetings etc etc that you can use your fear to your advantage - just like you mentioned. During the interview, think about what you say before you say it, I mean really think about it, because their job is to analyse everything you say (and they'll be writing down notes), so even if you answer all their questions the way they want you to, it could come down to one little thing you say.

    As far as public speaking goes, I personally think there are no 'tricks', or 'secrets', it basically comes down to practice, which builds confidence - something that you have mentioned has helped you.

    One thing I always think of whenever I need to get up in front of an audience and speak, whether it be 5 people or 50 - what would I look like to someone in the audience? What DO I want to look like to someone in the audience? Do I want to look like a nervous wreck, or someone who looks like they're in control? I know that everyone will choose the latter? So what to do about it?

  2. continued...

    Let me share some experience:

    What: To be a confident public speaker.
    Why: (Insert reason here) E.g. To be able to give presentations in front of an audience, to succeed in interviews, to rock out on stage.
    Who: Whoever wants to achieve the 'What'
    When: Now
    How: 7 handy 'tips'
    1. Find a connection between you and the interviewer. They will have a list of questions, such as "what are your weaknesses?", or "do you consider yourself a team player?", or situation type questions such as "how would you react if such and such happened?" blah blah blah. But if you can incorporate something you are passionate about into your answer, such as music or sport, then they will pretty much always prefer to speak to you about that than stick to the question list, and before you know it, times up!
    2. See above - basically visualise standing out of your body and viewing what you look like in the state of 'public speaking'.
    3. Understand that whoever is watching you probably isn't paying full attention to what you are doing anyway - the person most interested in your public speaking is you. Even in an interview, the interviewers mind will wander every now and then. Use that to your advantage.
    4. Nerves and fear are normal, if we didn't have them, we wouldn't be human. When you step into the 'Spotlight', and eyes are on you, even the most seasoned of public speakers feel what we call nerves. If you look at a motivational speaker after they've given a talk they will be dripping with sweat, so don't worry if you sweat. Have confidence that you will succeed and success will manifest itself.
    5. Maintain eye contact - this applies in a one-on-one interview type situation, or a large audience. If it's a large audience move from one person to another, maintain eye contact for a couple of seconds then move on. You won't get to everyone in the audience, but it's a good way to stay focussed and to give those people that you do connect with a feeling of worth (for lack of a better word).
    6. Just like George Harrison said, all things must pass. I trust you know what I'm talking about here.

    Good luck tomorrow (well, today..) man, I'm sure that once you are in there you will be at ease and focussed on the task at hand. Just remember to maintain eye contact, tell a few white lies if need be, do a little bit of acting to look as if your extroverted even though you may be introverted (don't worry, I acted up extroversion in my interview as well).

    Wow, sorry long comment :/

    My biggest fear is not living in the now through wasting time on meaningless pursuits - I've already conquered one of those fears by resigning from my job today.

    Speak soon amigo. Love you :)

  3. The 7th one was:

    7. Realise that the interviewer is human as well. They would have gone through a similar experience at some stage in their lives and therefore will be sympathetic to your situation. Connect with them, and the universe will repay you with success.

  4. That was a great story- I too used to suffer as you did then I found this site:

    and it was so helpful

    Public Speaking Fear is now gone!