Public Speaking: Scarier Than Death?

BY { 56 comments }

It’s an old cliché that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.

Can you believe that? I mean—seriously, people, what’s so scary about standing before a bunch of chumps while yapping away over a microphone? You’d rather die? Really? Are you stupid?

Okay, alright, fine, you got me.

I’m one those people!

Just hearing the word “Lectern” bring on instant nausea. And microphones? Scarier to me than an alien’s butt probe.

I’m an absolute ninja when it comes to avoiding public speaking. I began mastering the skill of avoidance at age four, when I was ejected from the safe nest of my family home and into the zoo of public school.

“Who shall I pick to come up the front for Show and Tell?” my teacher would ask, and I’d melt down behind the desk, compacting my little bones into an accordion fold the way a mouse does when it’s squeezing through a thimble-sized hole. I would hush my breath, slow my heart, and think invisible thoughts.

It worked every single time.

Using my invisibility skills, I never participated in a Show and Tell. In fact, I managed to go practically unseen during my sixteen years of schooling. That is an award-worthy accomplishment, owed entirely to my talent for bone-oragami.

But now I’m royally screwed …

In 2013, I’m due to launch my book to Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK, and—this just in!—Brazil. So, of course, I’m freaking out! As of Feb/March, I will be contractually obligated to show up to book readings events, signings, and TV and radio appearances.

This time, not even my rubbery bones can’t save me.

When my book sold to publishers, my reaction was: “I did it!” and then, “Oh no! I can’t hide anymore!” As the launch date grows closer, I’m charged with a mix of excitement and terror, which is one part Hells-yeah! mixed with one part Oh shit!, creating a Hellsyeahohshit cocktail.

I’m secretly hoping that the Mayan Calendar predictions will come true and that the world will end in December 2012. When Earth explodes into a ball of flames, I’ll be doing jazz hands in the flicker of fire before we’re all eternally snuffed and freed from our obligations.

(My condolences to anyone who is looking forward to the future.)

Or, I could just suck it up and do it.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know by now that the main theme of my blog is confronting fears. I’ve faced big fears before, but always with the knowledge that I could get off the boat if I wanted to (literally). This time, I’m strapped aboard for the whole ride.

From my past experiences, I at least know this much is true:

  • Things are never as scary as they seem.
  • Once the initial terror passes, exhilaration follows.
  • You need to face fears in order to know what you’re capable of.

“If you want to be successful, you must be willing to be uncomfortable.” Gil Eagles Click to Tweet

I want my book to succeed. I’m ready to get uncomfortable for that.

So let’s get uncomfortable together!

Now and then, I’m going to be sharing my warts-and-all journey leading up to the book launch and beyond. If you share this fear of mine, or if you’d simply like to laugh at my expense, please follow along!

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Are you scared of public speaking? Have you overcome a fear like this? If so, please send me your tips!

Leave a Comment

  • Cat of Sunshine and Siestas October 11, 2012 at 6:54 am edit

    My high school required everyone to take a public speaking course before graduating. I was, per usual, overconfident and offered to go first on our first assignment. My research got me an A; my delivery, a D. I assumed that practice and thinking about what questions I might receive from the audience didn’t matter – it does!! I earned an A in the class, and then took every other comm course offered and TAed for the teacher, and was even nominated by teachers to speak at graduation. Practice makes perfect, just likw muscles practicing sports eventually know what to do.

    By far the scariest speech I ever made was to 200 other language teachers in Spanish for an orientation program. like in English, I had to remember to enunciated and speak slowly!! I did have friends in the audience who gave me lots of thumbs up without being annoying – bug confidence boost! Your content is great, so believe in yourself!

    Reply
  • Luke Simmons October 11, 2012 at 7:08 am edit

    Nice post. It doesn’t surprise me all that much….. I used to freeze up but I followed my Dad’s tips of the 5 P’s (practice, prevents, piss poor, performance) and it helps with my confidence/concentration. The skinny of it is – know what you want to say and you won’t have an on-mic meltdown if something distracts you.

    Reply
  • Amy October 11, 2012 at 8:01 am edit

    Congrats on the book! Once you do a few public speaking events, I’m sure you’ll get more comfortable and it will be more natural and less ‘oh shit’. :) Good luck. :)

    Reply
  • Scott October 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm edit

    I just want to know where you will be appearing so I can get you to sign a copy of your book :)

    Reply
  • Natalie Sisson October 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm edit

    Frickin love this and after meeting you in person I think you can easily wow people over with your personality just by speaking.

    I just wrote this post on Forbes about why the fear of public speaking is good for you. Might help?

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/10/09/five-reasons-why-the-fear-of-public-speaking-is-great-for-you/

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 12, 2012 at 9:12 am edit

      That means a lot to me Natalie, thank you. Love your Forbes article. Very practical tips. But I’m still trying to figure out how to get practice while I’m on this deserted island home of mine. Last I checked, no Toastmasters on Koh Tao. Damn!

      Reply
  • Nicole October 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm edit

    Hopefully tears won’t stream from your eyes and down your face when it’s time to perform, like happened to me when my best friend started walking toward me and her groom when I was about to officiate at her wedding. That’s when I really thought I might die. But here I am, not dead, and she’s still my best friend.

    I’m SO looking forward to the release of Love with a Chance of Drowning. A book I’ve found helpful is The Confident Speaker: Beat Your Nerves and Communicate at Your Best in Any Situation by Harrison Monarth and Larina Kase. You’ll be awesome.

    Reply
  • Carmel October 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm edit

    Yes and my voice shakes like crazy when I have to speak in public.

    We should have gone to the Milford Academy where children should neither be seen or heard.

    You’ll figure it out.

    Reply
  • Eric Nepomnaschy October 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm edit

    oh, snap! toughen up princess!

    Reply
  • Patricia Sands October 11, 2012 at 7:04 pm edit

    Torre, you know I’m a fan. Congratulations on the fabulous distribution, btw!
    My advice to you – as you suggest above – “JUST SUCK IT UP AND DO IT!”
    I can pretty much guarantee after the first few moments, you will love it. On a much smaller scale, since my novel hasn’t yet been discovered for world-wide distribution (but one day will … oh yes!), since publishing The Bridge Club I am frequently asked to speak to women’s groups. My biggest gig was two weeks ago to 260 at a women’s conference. All I can offer to you in reassurance is that the people will be there because they want to hear you and they loved your book. As a former teacher, standing up in front of groups and blathering on is not a problem for me but speaking about something as personal as my writing was a different issue. My experience is that readers like to tell you what they enjoyed about your writing, how they related to it, how it made them laugh, cry, whatever, or also perhaps in your case, made them want to sail around the world. They also like to hear about why you wrote the book and your experiences around that. Just be yourself. I suspect you speak as you write and therefore you will be brilliant. If Toronto or south Florida is on your schedule, I’ll be in the front row!

    Reply
  • Lauren October 11, 2012 at 8:36 pm edit

    I too hate public speaking but have found you just can’t avoid it in life at times. The best advice I can suggest is to really know your subject, know it better than anyone else in the room. This helps to provide loads of confidence… I believe you know your subject matter pretty well :-) You will be much better than you think! x

    Reply
  • wishy October 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm edit

    Sounds like a paid world tour to me! A few days in and you’ll start doing on autopilot ad-libbing along the way, so comfortable you’ll walk straight off the beach, pick up the mic and start telling jokes in portuguese. Just those first couple might be cringey! hope I can catch one of those first ones in Melbourne?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche October 12, 2012 at 9:30 am edit

      Come along to the first one in Melbourne, Wishy. And please come wearing a gorilla suit. Then, if I stuff it up, you can start making gorilla noises up the back of the room and distract everyone from my shaking voice and puckering chin. Pleaaaaaaaasssse?

      Reply
  • Antonia Murphy October 11, 2012 at 10:35 pm edit

    Don’t worry! No one in the audience will be thinking anything mean, apart from “Who is this girl? Boy, is she dumb. Not that pretty either. And her book is boring, too.”

    Accept that, and you’ll have nothing to fear!

    (Of course, I’m kidding. Just pretend they’re all naked and imagine them pooping. Works for me. Also wine. And don’t worry– you’re brilliant and loveable, and I’m sure the world will agree!)

    Reply
  • Karen October 12, 2012 at 7:47 am edit

    This reminds me why we’re friends; our mutual desire to fade into the walls. But you can do it, and you’ll be great. I mean, you know your subject inside out so preparing should be an absolute breeze. It will grow you, promise and get easier and easier each time. x

    Reply
  • Savvy Scot October 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm edit

    When are you going to be in the UK? Will it be London?

    Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove October 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm edit

    I had to present my thesis at uni in front of 300 people and nearly shat myself. My friend and I were so nervous that we seriously considered jumping in front of a car, so that we would be in hospital for the big day. Crazy right? Of course we didn’t do it and took some herbal remedies to calm our nerves instead. With hindsight I am so glad I did it though, as it prepared me for the many presentations I had to do for work since. With every public speaking event it gets easier. Promise! You will do just fine, I am sure.

    Reply
  • JoAnna October 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm edit

    I absolutely adore public speaking! Seriously. Can I speak on your behalf? We would make a great tag team, I promise. :)

    My best tip: Just be yourself. Say what feels natural.

    Reply
  • Denise October 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm edit

    Torre,

    I used to be TERRIFIED of calling people….unless it was someone I was friends with.
    Everything changed when had to become a travel consultant, but yes, I was uncomfortable, and even, shall I say, in pain for quite a while…
    You can do it!

    Reply
  • Meg | One Love Meg October 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm edit

    I think it will be easier than you think. You are passionate about this book and it’s unfoldings. It will make things much smoother than if you had to give a speech on some random topic. I think you will do just great! I am also so happy for your book to come out. Congrats!

    Reply
  • Julie Jacobson October 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm edit

    Torre, I share your fear. I got married instead of continuing on with my second year of college in 1976. I have to say that I was relieved as hell when we sped out of town in our little TR-6 and right out of Public Speaking 101. That looming class had been staring me in the face and keeping me up at night. My marriage lasted only seven years but my fear of public speaking lives on. Kick it in the ass now. Don’t be like me. They say that you should practice in the mirror because you will by far be your worst critic.

    Reply
  • Tracey October 14, 2012 at 3:00 am edit

    Oh man. Public speaking is one of my, if not my biggest, fears. I’ve done well to try and avoid it for most of my life … but every so often it’s required of me at work. I just hope for the best and muddle my way through.

    Here’s to all of us getting uncomfortable … and what a happy thing to be uncomfortable for – the launch of your book. :)

    Reply
  • Hannah October 14, 2012 at 7:34 am edit

    I am certain you will rock it, regardless of how scared you will undoubtedly be – you have serious talent on your side my friend. I hope I get to come to a reading!

    Reply
  • Arianwen October 16, 2012 at 11:32 pm edit

    Good luck! A few things that help me cope are remembering that pretty much everyone feels the same way about it, and thinking about a particularly scary (black belt taekwondo grading) or difficult (mum passing away) time in my life and asking myself ‘What would I rather be experiencing right now?’ Even if you make a mistake, it won’t be anywhere near as obvious or memorable to everyone else as it is to you! Go get em!

    Reply
  • Tracey Tullis October 17, 2012 at 3:59 am edit

    I to have a fear of public speaking, but now I can do it without to much discomfort. I over came this fear (for the most part) by stepping up at work to be a trainer of all new hires. Training classes of 10 to 20 newbies for all stores in the city I lived in once a month. I was terrified!! How I coped and over came my fear was preparing notes (cue cards) and reading them in front of a mirror while envisioning my class in front of me. I would read the cards numerous times until I was comfortable, enough. Then I would I would think of things to bring with me when I had to speak in front of my class that would make me feel more comfortable. Perseverance was the key. Be scared but keep doing it, you will over come:)

    Reply
  • Tatiana October 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm edit

    I don’t “love” public speaking – but I’m not afraid. I guess I like talking [particularly about myself and what I like] but it can be hard when you’re not sure how people are going to react. I think that’s part of where the public speaking fear comes from – is that you can’t control other people’s reactions, or you can’t even guess how they might react.

    So I think in dealing with the fear, you would need to practice non-attachment. Not having expectations for the response of your audience, and just doing it because it needs to be done or because you simply want to do it.

    Perhaps that might help you (??).

    Reply
  • Hogga October 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm edit

    Hooray for being uncomfortable! I guess that means you’re doing something right? (or very very wrong?).

    Reply
  • Kim October 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm edit

    I get it, I’m terrified to do public speaking but had to do a lot of it in my job (you know, when I had one). I think that my fear always came from a feeling of being unprepared. You’re talking about YOU, so you’re the expert. You should take some comfort in that. You’ll be wonderful!

    Reply
  • Pablo November 2, 2012 at 4:51 am edit

    Imagine them all naked…or seating in a toilet

    Convince yourself they are all really dumb…

    Think they are all friends of yours…

    Pretend you are not actually speaking…you are writing. And you do that wonderfully!

    Reply
  • Good Public Speaking November 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm edit

    Great resource!

    Remember, success will not come overnight. It takes time to master the art of good public speaking. Be patient and pursue it, you’ll soon become a speaker with power!

    Reply
  • Britany November 20, 2012 at 9:59 pm edit

    I am lightyears away from successfully completing the fifteen book ideas I’ve worked out in my head and have already considered the downside of becoming a successful writer as being forced to do book readings. My stomach flipped a little just writing that. Problem is, it seems that nearly every profession involves some sort of public speaking at a certain level of success. I totally understand your fear and for your sake, and mine, hope that it is in fact the kind of thing that fades once you’re forced to do it. Congrats on the book deal and good luck!! :)

    Reply
  • Carolyn November 27, 2012 at 4:58 am edit

    Yup, I definitely can relate to this. When I published my first (and only) book Thinking out Loud, last year around this time I was nervous about my Book Launch as well, but the plan was to have two launches…the first with a group of close friends and family who really supported me during my journey (the second public launch never came off! lol #shamefully). However after that I was asked to speak at a Career Day and my (high school) Alma mater graduation! Couldn’t exactly run from that…but I practiced in front of my co-workers and family a couple times and voila! It went great:D Once I conquered my fear, it was a magnificent rush! Hardly even read from the script and the look on the students, parents, principal and teachers faces were priceless. The comments afterwards were amazing. I would definitely do it again. I hate to admit that I avoided radio and tv like the plague though:(( But someday, maybe I’ll get over this fear! LOL. I’m sure you’ll do great! All it takes is a little practise to boost your confidence levels!

    Reply
  • Roving Jay December 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm edit

    I have such a fear of public speaker, but unfortunately have to do it quite frequently. My turning point was in an auditorium, in front of a lectern, a microphone 6 inches from my face – with my voice booming from the speakers around the room. My throat was tighter than a ducks-a**, and I wanted to pee myself, and then waves of nausea and pressure traveled up my body until my neck and head throbbed, and all I could hear was the beat of my own heart pounding. That’s when I joined Toastmasters, and started attending weekly sessions to practice inpromptu speaking and giving full presentations. It helped a bit, and I’m definitely better… but it’s still not enjoyable.

    Reply
  • Caitlin Kelly December 14, 2012 at 1:15 am edit

    It’s not that big a deal. If you really want to acquire some skill in advance, I used a great speaking coach after my second book came out in April 2011 — in D.C. but she works with people everywhere via Skype. I was scared shitless, (about to do an hour of live radio with 2 m listeners the next day), and she helped me enormously. I’ve since done a lot more paid public speaking and highly recommend NOT winging it. It is a skill you need to work on.

    http://spokenwithauthority.com/

    Reply
  • Horatio Marteleira December 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm edit

    Used to have the exact same problem…would hyperventilate and faint in front of the class when I was in primary school.
    Want a cure? Take prozac or some other legal miracle pill that will put a shine in your eyes.
    The other method is to keep fainting until, one day, you say “screw this, I’ll sweat it out instead.”

    Reply