Coping with fears of public speaking

Estimated 6 minute read · Friday, 3 June 2016

Fears sabotage our success and impede improvements we can make. It's terribly difficult to overcome them but all we can do is try. Take it one step at a time.

At some time in your career, you may be asked to present or speak at an event. If you are brave enough, you may opt-in on your own.

Chances are, if you are software developer, it's not something you will want to do. I know. For many years I have avoided it. It's terrifying.

  • I lose my entire vocabulary when I look at a crowd of people
  • I stumble and mess up the words I remember
  • I say nonsensical things that make me cringe afterward
  • I lose control over my voice
  • I forget what I am saying
  • I freeze and panic

Just put yourself out there

To hell with it. I've let so many opportunities pass me by because I was scared.

At the end of April, I got a tweet asking if I'd be interested in giving an Ignite talk at Jozi-JUG—a local Java User Group.

My initial response was "hell no" but I responded by saying I'll check it out and decided to submit a talk titled "Branding Your Identity."

Giving a 5 minute talk can't be that bad, can it? *facepalm*

I struggled to prepare because of the fear that had built up within me not to mention my debilitating inner perfectionist that impeded me from progressing.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Closer to the deadline, I started freaking out. This is when I decided to reach out to the community (at work and on Twitter)—which I should've done earlier.

Thanks to so many amazing people I have been given pearls of wisdom to help me deal with my fears which I'd like to share with you.

Take tips from the Pros

LifeHack shared some great content about public speaking tips from world-class TED presenters.

  • Show up to give, not take
  • Focus on your breath to stay focused
  • Leave the slides for the boardroom
  • Use plain English
  • Leverage the power of the pause
  • Embrace the art of the unexpected
  • Get the audience involved
Thanks to Justin Reddy for sharing.

Robin Sharma, a self-help writer and leadership speaker, shares some ideas in 9 minutes to help you overcome your fears.

Thanks to [Indran Naidoo]( for sharing.

Ben Orenstein presented a great 48 minute talk with straightforward techniques for giving excellent presentations. This talk is very entertaining and has some interesting filler lightning talks.

Thanks to [Steven McDonald]( for sharing this great talk and for suggesting deep breathing exercises and "hero pose."

Assimilate your shadow self

Own your shadow and you will own your life. ~ Aletheia Luna

I was introduced to the "Shadow Self" concept created by psychologist Carl Jung.

Wikipedia states that "the shadow or 'shadow aspect' may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one's personality, the shadow is largely negative, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious."

I don't know where my phobia stems from but my shadow self is filled with public speaking grief. It has so much power over me.

It was suggested that instead of hiding from this grief and trying to be someone I am not, I should face it. Try to fully understand it from the perspective of another human being.

This concept is new to me and I may not have given it justice here, but it has helped me by thinking "I'm not scared, you are [shadow self], so let's do this together."

Thanks to Thane Thomson for introducing me to this concept.

Stand on a chair

Standing on a chair while practicing your speech feels awkward. This can help equip you for the awkwardness you will feel on the day of the delivery.

Unfortunately I don't own chairs that I can stand on but I did take away the gist of "embracing the awkwardness". So I decided to leverage this.

I went into a few of our delivery teams and asked if they had five minutes to listen to my talk that I will be presenting. When I got the go-ahead I didn't give my racing heart time to catch up as I dove straight into my speech.

Yes, this is awkward. Asking people to listen to me just out of the blue is weird. But it's useful, builds confidence and prepares you for talking in front of some people.

Thanks to Jimi Lutz for this awesome suggestion.

Record yourself

I recorded videos of myself while I practiced my speech at home. I was able to notice how my delivery changed the moment I knew I was being recorded. I'd stumble and make so many mistakes.

This also tied in nicely with embracing the awkwardness.

Thanks to Malay Pandey for this great suggestion.

The audience isn't your enemy

It is important to remember that the audience is not your enemy, in fact they are rooting for you. They know it is scary being up there and they are most likely going to be forgiving when you make mistakes. They don't want to see you fail.

Thanks to Seef Oosthuizen sharing this insight.


Being prepared is important and thanks to my husband and many people I work with at DStv Digital Media, I have been given the opportunity to practice my speech and get constructive criticism to help me improve.

My final thoughts

Fears can be paralyzing. I decided to reach out to the community for guidance. This gave me courage and strength to confront my fears without backing out.

I want to a live a life where I grab opportunities that build me. I want to succeed. Tackling this fear is a big win for me, regardless of the outcome it has on Saturday.

Thanks to Olga for coaching me and to everyone at [Stv Digital Media, Britehouse and DVT who listened to my dry runs and offered me so much support, constructive criticism and motivation.

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