I recall reading some years ago that there are three fears in life:
1. Fear of public speaking
2. Fear of dying, and
3. Fear of dying while public speaking
Cheeky, I know. But, this is exactly how I felt for many years – until recently.
As a professional communicator, I have spent two decades in the field of public relations. I also spent those twenty years hiding from professional public speaking. A big reason was fear (“terror” is a more accurate word), but not all: I simply did not enjoy getting up in front of people and being the centre of attention. Period.
Now, anytime I tell someone about this, they look at me like I have 8 horns growing out of my head. Apparently, I come across as being extroverted (like extroverts are supposed to enjoy public speaking), but, truthfully, inside I feel more like an introvert.
On my recent trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, I had some time to reflect (not much, though, as it was packed with activity, plus I got a horrible chest cold). I believe my fear of public speaking stemmed from my first public address in elementary school when I stood up in front of the class and completely forgot my speech. As I stood there as blank as a sheet of paper, the entire class burst into laughter (hey, I would too!). Feeling like the village idiot, I vowed to never let that happen again.
So, I hid from it.
Well, fast-forward to my twenties and thirties, when I worked in the PR agency world for a number of years, I would find any excuse I could to get out of doing major presentations because I was far too nervous (I would call in sick, or conveniently have a scheduling conflict, or come up with some other excuse). I would have rather hammered toothpicks underneath my nails.
In later years, I took a teaching position at a university with one goal in mind: to get over my fear. It helped, but I still did not enjoy getting up in front of people to speak.
So, I still hid from it.
In my relatively new role as an internet TV talk show host, I had to get over my fear of being in front of the camera. Since launching my new career, I continually get asked to speak to groups, on a variety of topics. And I’ve been saying “yes” – willingly.
I realized my reluctance over the years did not have as much to do with speaking in front of a group as it did about having the right topic to speak about. I just needed the right topic and, vavoom…
I recall one of my teachers saying “if you have a gift, it is your responsibility to share it with the world” (thank you, John Demartini). When I got clear that I had a message — listen to your heart’s desires — I realized that this one of the most important aspects of life to me: to listen and follow my heart’s desires — no matter what. And because that is the thing I want deeply, it is also the greatest challenge I have been given. Why? So I strive to learn…and share…
Even having written a book on the subject: “The Whispering Heart: Your Inner Guide to Creativity,” I still have not yet mastered it.
But what I do know, and what I have a lot of practice doing, is striving to follow my heart, getting over the fear to do so, and finding the tools to help me get back on my path when I veer off.
I believe I have been given two gifts: 1. Ability to communicate, and 2. A message worthy of sharing. I also believe it is my responsibility to share the wisdom I have gleaned, including the mistakes and failures. Besides, it’s all a lesson.
When I attended the We Move Forward 2012 International Women’s Day event, I gave a few introductory words and shared a story worthy of hearing, which I share here in this video (below).
My point is this: if you have a fear of public speaking, just know this: so do I. If I can do it, so can you.
I, the Reluctant Speaker….
© Shannon Skinner 2012