Public Speaking Fear – Breaking the Comfort Zone

The fear of public speaking can grip even the most experienced public speakers. I was recently speaking to someone who has given many many speeches but still has a strong fear. He explained that he speaks at a local speaking group (Toastmasters). He’s comfortable while speaking in front of his group but still has reluctance to giving speeches outside of his “comfort zone”. I like to think of the word fear as an acronym: Feel Emotion And Respond. This means that feeling fear is good, and it’s what you do when you feel fear that matters.

Even though you may be comfortable giving speeches in your own comfort zone (at work, at school, etc.), the trick to being a great public speaker is to be able to feel the same level of confidence and comfort no matter where you are speaking.

I was recently at a local beach. As I was walking up from the water, I noticed a very large man. He was tall, very muscular, bald, and extremely intimidating looking. I noticed that he had a large retractable dog leash. By the size of the handle, I figured the dog had to be part pit bull, part horse (I had a picture of a 80 pound pit bull with a spike collar). As I walked closer to the man and his “beast”, the dog came out from the sand dune his was “marking”. The dog was an overweight Chihuahua no bigger than an average house cat. This struck me as pretty funny since I assumed that the dog was as massive and intimidating as the man walking him. Once I got to the sidewalk, the man and “beast” were now beside me. Without even thinking, I said to the man “With a leash like that, I figured that you were walking a huge uncontrollable monster!”. The man turned to me, gave me a weird look, then smiled, and said “Then I guess you don’t know much about Chihuahuas”. I smiled and looked down at Beast and said “You’re probably right. He looks pretty vicious.” Then we walked our separate ways.

The point of my story is that I spoke to someone who looked pretty intimidating and didn’t give it a second thought. I tend to do this a lot. I try to talk to everyone I meet.This is one of the ways that I overcame my fear of public speaking. By speaking to strangers, I am able to do the following:

  • Break the ice
  • Think on my feet
  • Feel comfortable with people I don’t know
  • Meet fun and interesting people

If you start small, you should be able to get to the point where you can talk to anyone you meet. Start by saying “Hi. How’s your day going” to the next grocery clerk, bank teller, or anyone else you encounter during your day. You’ll find that people are more friendly when you start a conversation, especially one that is about them. From there you could start taking to people on the bus, at a grocery or book store, or anywhere else that affords you some time to talk. Before you know it you’ll be talking to everyone you meet. It actually becomes fun to see how people react to a conversation with a stranger. Then, the next time you have to get up and speak, you will feel like your just starting a conversation with someone you just met. Your nerves and fear should be at a minimum.

So, the next time you feel uncomfortable thinking about your next speech, go out and start to talk to people. You’ll find that your comfort level will rise and you’ll start to look forward to meeting new people.

Speak well!


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