Snakes, getting stuck in a small space, and public speaking. These are common fears and ones which affect me. As Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision”. Step by step, I am choosing courage to face my fears and overcome them.
Firstly Snakes. Five years ago my child wanted a reptile party for her 7th birthday. So, I booked a lady who turned up at our house with snakes for guests to hold. I chose courage and held a snake. My fear has gone.
Getting stuck in a small space. For years I avoided using lifts. Small spaces can leave me anxious and panicky. Recently I made the decision to starting getting into lifts whenever I feel able to. There’s still a way to go, but…baby steps.
Thirdly, public speaking. For anyone who knows me, this may seem bizarre. After all, I have been a public communicator for decades. Nevertheless, the anxiety I feel is real. Let me explain why.
As a career, life and strengths coach who runs courses, retreats and webinars, it is my role to motivate and inspire. When speaking from the front I can guess what people are thinking by their body language and expressions. When the audience is smiling, nodding, engaged, all is well. However, when expressions are blank, the inner me starts to worry: ‘Are they bored?’ ‘Do they want to be here?’ ‘Is what I am saying too complicated, or too simple?’
I can honestly say that 95% of the time my participant feedback is superb. However, there have been a few times I have been faced with a difficult or sometimes critical participant. I have addressed those moments calmly with a smile, but they did knock my confidence.
So, with my next face-to-face course approaching and the number of webinars I run doubling, I decided to take action and face this anxiety associated with public speaking. I had never had any formal public speaking training, and so I decided to join Toastmasters-a leading non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.
At each bi-weekly meeting members get a chance to practice impromptu speaking, as well as deliver pre-written speeches. In addition, members at Worthing Speakers Club, my local Toastmasters, are given mentors to answer questions and provide advice.
Did it work? Well, my confidence in myself and my abilities has increased in just three months. I have learned a lot about tools of the public speaking trade: about speech structure, for example, about the importance of vocal variety and tone, and how long pauses can make the audience think. I’m pleased to report that the first speech I gave received excellent feedback and, importantly, gave me a couple of things to work on for next time. More importantly for me personally, my anxiety is less, I worry less about speaking in public, and I am saying yes to more opportunities for work that include leading from the front.
As Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” My hope and mission is to change lives for the better. Through my work I enable people to become energised, fulfilled and thrive at work and at home. By choosing to face my fear of public speaking, I have chosen the path that will help me impact the lives of more people, for good.