By Cheryl O’Donoghue
Do you feel like you’d rather die than speak in front of a large (or any sized) group of people? After decades speaking in front of humans for a living, it’s still one of my greatest fears and probably yours, too! It’s not surprising that experts estimate that as much as 75 percent of the population struggles with a fear of public speaking to a certain degree. That means in the U.S. alone some 246 million people feel nervous about talking to others.
I come honestly by my fear. I’m a natural introvert. I get my energy withdrawing from other humans, cocooning in my comfy clothes with a dachshund on each side, a book in one hand and three remotes in the other. But I also have a strong urge to be relevant and useful.
I was acutely aware of my challenge with public speaking when I was 12 years old and had to do my first speech in front of the classroom. It was an informative speech and the topic I chose was “Glossophobia: How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking.” Yep. How ironic!
I had the class’ attention though as I gave them a handful of suggestions to quell the ‘ole speaking jitters, from tips for practicing in front of an imaginary audience and organizing your thoughts, to breathing techniques and mini (and non-detectable) isometric exercises they could do in their chairs. My classmates responded well to my presentation and I felt good that I was able to share information they found of value. (I was less concerned with the grade, yet that worked out as well.)
For our second assignment we had to do a demonstration speech. I chose to show the class how to do Origami, the delicate Japanese art of paper folding. What was I thinking?! Having a quivering voice was one thing, but hands that shook like an overloaded washing machine vibrating out of control posed its own challenge. And even though my Origami butterfly looked more like a flattened stink bug, the class had fun folding the paper squares I gave them into miniature works of art. Once again, my classmates loved the speech and I felt good about giving them something they enjoyed.
Those early experiences taught me an important truth: One of the best ways to overcome a fear of just about any challenge in front of you—public speaking or other—is to NOT focus on YOU. Think about your audience, whether it’s an audience of one, one thousand, or one million. Use your talent to give them the best experience you can give them. When you direct your energy toward them rather than saving face, looking good, or getting something in return, it feels different (and much better) to them and you.
For many of us in business, sometimes that means we must go against our past conditioning. Business is all about transactions. I give you something, you give me something. We monetize. A lot. We just need to change up the script a bit. Focus on developing a relationship with your audience. Give them something of use that you enjoy giving and, in return, you get the pleasure of being useful, of being of service. When you approach it this way, most fears and challenges dissipate because you’re being authentic (which is a lot easier than being something you’re not), using your talents to best effect while putting the focus on another – and expecting nothing in return. Detach yourself from the outcome, and you’ll ultimately achieve your results. Deep stuff.
If you’ve done this before and it has worked for you, let me know. I’d love to hear from you. And if you’re wondering how this approach could work for you and want to talk it through, I’m happy to be of service to you. No strings attached.
About the Author
Cheryl O’Donoghue, MS, is a businesswoman, author and emotional intelligence leadership advocate. She is an ACW member as well as president and co-founder of Mission Sisters Who Work. Mission Sisters Who Work is a 501(c)3 humanitarian organization dedicated to providing self-empowerment tools (books and workshops) to women-focused nonprofit, education and community groups, as well as scholarships to young women who dream of pursuing business or STEM-related careers and need assistance paying for their training or education. Her book How to Be a Woman in Business (while Being True to Yourself) was released in February 2018. Cheryl recently published the book How to Be a Woman in Technology (while Focusing on What Matters Most), and she is in the process of writing a new book on emotional intelligence leadership with a target publishing date in 2020.