The first thing to know if you’re afraid of public speaking is — you’re not alone and you’re in good company.
Highly successful people are often afraid of public speaking when they first start out. It’s a common fear shared by millions and affects people across all professions and backgrounds. In fact, if it makes you feel any better, even people like Richard Branson, Jay-Z, and Julia Roberts were afraid of it when they started out. Warren Buffet was terrified of it, but he now recommends it as the number one professional skill to develop. According to him, “The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now, at least, is to hone your communication skills–both written and verbal.“ Why? Because, as Buffet explains. “You can have all the brainpower in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it. And the transmission is communication.”
In other, words, your ability to communicate often determines your career trajectory. Being able to clearly articulate and express an idea is critical to your professional development. So, if you struggle with public speaking (during job interviews or presenting at meetings and conferences, etc.), it will impede your ability to succeed in the workplace.
But again, you’re not alone. And, New York Times best-selling authors Brene Brown, Adam Grant, Tim Ferris, and Susan Cain all struggled with it. Today, Tim gives speeches around the world. But he wasn’t always a confident public speaker. In fact, the first time he was invited to speak at the South by Southwest conference, he was too terrified and embarrassed to practice his speech in front of other people. Instead, he practiced it in his friend’s garage in front of their three dogs until he was captivating enough to hold their attention for most of the presentation. Yes, you read that right. The guy who hosts one of the top rated podcasts (with more than 500 million downloads) was so afraid to speak in front of people, he practiced on three chihuahuas to build his confidence. (You can listen to him describe the experience to Susan Cain here. The conversation starts around 26:36.) Susan, on the other hand, registered for a class and worked with a public speaking coach for an entire week to prepare for her TED talk.
Being afraid of public speaking is perfectly normal, and there is more than one way to overcome that fear.
Different approaches work for different people. But, the point is this: they do the work. The fear doesn’t go away on its own. You have to actively work at it. Don’t assume the people who make it look easy are just “naturally” good at it, because they’re often the ones who were terrified of it in the first place! Assuming that skill is easy for them diminishes all the time and effort they put into learning it. It was a valuable skill they lacked and took action to develop — one class, one coach, one day, or one dog at a time. And so can you.
So what’s one thing you can do?
Practice, practice, practice! And make it a habit. As Anwesha Banerjee, a neuroscientist at the Emory School of Medicine, shares, “Speak at work. Speak in your community. Speak in front of friends and family… Don’t tell yourself that this is something you can live without. Don’t tell yourself that this is something you don’t need. When it comes to stage fright, don’t get over it, get used to it.”