Shortly before “going on,” however, I can be sometimes be found huddled backstage whispering urgently, “I can’t do this. Why am I doing this. Nothing is worth going through this. I will never do this again.”
After a few decades of anxious, self-inflicted suffering, I’ve had a few insights. Here are my top six.
1. I am not alone. Public speaking ranks right up there with snake handling and death on the list of activities that grown men and women most dread.
2. The nice people who have come to hear me would rather listen to me than be home cleaning the kitchen or figuring their taxes.
3. Every one of my listeners will be more forgiving of my ignorance and mistakes than they would if I were, say, a brain surgeon or concert violinist.
4. I need to accept myself, flaws and all. For example, I have an uncommonly high schlep factor—a great capacity for spillage, breakage, trippage and collisions with inanimate objects. I will never leave the podium and leap around the stage like those inspirational speakers.
5. My blunders and shortcoming are actually a great gift to my audience, who, upon viewing my glaring imperfections, might gather the courage to get behind the podium themselves.
6. Survival is a perfectly reason goal to set for myself when facing a live audience.
As I explain in The Dance of Fear, I haven’t entirely transcended myfear of public speaking and I am quite certain I never will. Whether I‘m facing an audience of fifteen hundred or fifteen people, I remind myself of a lesson I learned growing up in Brooklyn, not far on the bike path to Coney Island.
I was terrified by a ride called the Cyclone, a daunting, high-speed roller coaster that I’d watch as an observer.
One day a particularly sweet-looking boy strapped himself into the first car. When the ride was over I approached. “How do you do it?” I asked. “How do you get over being afraid.
“You don’t get over it,” he told me. “You just buy a ticket.”
That’s how it works. You say “Yes,” to a speaking invitation because it’s off in the future, and the future seems really far away. You’ve bought the ticket. Then you have to show up.
And remember to breath.
Published on October 26, 2014 by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. in The Dance of Connection