Not Afraid

I‘m not afraid to take a stand
Everybody come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just let you know that, you’re not alone
Holla if you feel that you’ve been down the same road

– Eminem, Not Afraid –

We all have our fears. Some more than others. What are you afraid of? Me, I used to be afraid to stand up and talk before an audience. Not any more. Not even before unknown audiences or in other countries. Not even if something goes wrong, like a computer crash, no internet, heat, cold, no  mic…A couple of months ago I even took over a session of a friend, who got sick on stage. I stood up, walked up and continued his session. I had no clue what he had prepared, so I had to improvise and managed it very well. Without fear or nerves.

What happened? Like many keynote speakers I learned to get rid of my fear. How did I do this? Instead of running away from my fears, which is what most people do, I decided to face my fears! Every opportunity I got, I stood up, first hesitating, of course, then with more and more confidence.

Why? I tricked myself…Of course, I started with telling (practical) jokes to friends (small audiences), asking questions during seminars or trainings I attended as a participant. It takes courage to stand up and ask your question. And it better be a good question, right? So, I started with small exercises, then moved on to introduce speakers on stage. And at one point in time I was asked to give a session to a professional audience. I was an undercover student (clients didn’t know I was still a student) and there I suddenly had to give someone else’s presentation. Nervous at first, I surprisingly felt rather comfortable, because I knew the topic very well (As an expert, it doesn’t matter which questions they ask…bring it on!). And then I used a trick: I told myself I was playing a game. How well can you pretend to be a good speaker? Would anyone notice that I am just a student? So, I played this game and WON! No one ever knew! So, if you are uncertain, see if this trick could also work for you…You got game? 🙂

By the way, if you are prepared well, you also know who will be in your audience. Did you adapt your speech to them? Are you using examples they understand? How well will you interact with them or fulfill their expectations? Interesting to know these answers before you get on stage! Did you ask?

Also, learning from peers helps tremendously too. As Eminem sings…you are not alone. Every speaker, trainer or coach went through it as well ( or still is!), so by exchanging experiences you can help each other. Focus on the positive things first. What is he/she doing right? Might be hard at first, but even the worst keynotes still have value to learn from. Can you discover what it is? Share your thoughts. If you receive feedback from others, first take it in, before your defense goes up. Don’t take yourself so seriously! Listen to what others are saying. Reflect on it. Are they right? Why (not)? Then decide if you change . Just postpone your judgement and act later…

One final thing. Be kind to yourself! Remember: Everyone has to learn. Every time you faced your fears and overcome them, reward yourself. It can be as simple as taking in the applause the audience gives you. It can be enjoying the compliments some people give you. It can be you, giving yourself a high five or big smile. You just won the game : You – Fear : 1 – 0!  🙂

So, wrapping up, here are a couple of tips if you are afraid of public speaking:

  1. know your subject (you are the expert because you are on stage, not them)
  2. know your audience (who is there? what do they expect?)
  3. be prepared and show up early
  4. take any opportunity to speak, even if it is by asking questions from the audience first
  5. ask feedback, from the audience, but also from peers
  6. go to other keynote speakers and learn from them
  7. Trust yourself and reward yourself everytime by enjoying the applause. You earned it!
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