It’s not really fear of public speaking…

exposed

…it’s fear of being transparent–of being myself in front of other people, of being judged.

As Seth Godin says, it’s fear of telling the truth.

Maybe that’s why a course in public speaking tends to be the basic communication course at many colleges. People expect through those courses to lose their fear, and you never really lose it, you just transform it.

As we’ve talked about before, much of that transformation involves simply thinking differently about the experience: it’s just adrenaline, it’s just energy, I don’t want to get rid of it, I want to harness it, etc.

But let’s be clear and frank: some of that transformation is also simply developing a tolerance. In other words, you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Even after I had been speaking for years, the first few times I spoke professionally I was right back into levels of adrenaline that were uncomfortable. Several times I told myself, “That’s it. I’m done. I will honor my commitment today, but this is too uncomfortable to be worth it.”

But like (I assume) childbirth, you soon forget the pain and remember the rewards, and so you sign up for another one.

Over time, I have come to actually look forward to the feeling I used to call “jitters.” I suspect it’s the same feeling that drives thrill-seekers. But a large part of that has been getting beyond (mostly) concern over being judged.

One area to cut yourself a break: you will never completely get over that, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to. For example, last semester had a couple of the best classes I have had in probably a decade. (Last summer had the best, too. I hope this indicates a trend.) It also happened to be a semester in which our department ran “Student Perception of Faculty” surveys.

You can see interesting patterns when you look at those. In one of the two “better” classes, 16 students said they would definitely recommend me to another student, and two more said they probably would. None said probably not, but one said definitely not. You can look all through the categories and the pattern remains the same–there’s always one who puts the lowest possible mark.

You might think that one person simply misunderstood how to mark the scales, but they had the chance to make written comments also, and while most of them rave about me or the class, with a couple saying good things, there is one comment that makes it obvious the student just flat didn’t like me.

It’s human nature to obsess about that sort of thing. I tell students that if out of 100 people who heard you speak only two say something less than flattering, those are the two you will focus on. It’s part of what we have to learn as speakers: you are unlikely to connect with every single audience member. Our goal is to raise our percentages.

It still bugs me to wonder who I failed to connect with in that particular class, since it seemed as if all of them got into the class, improved as speakers, and showed enthusiasm for the course. But it doesn’t bother me much. I wish I had more specific feedback to figure out what went on there, and it’s possible it really had nothing to do with me. I’ll never know.

But I do know this: until you get used to the idea that some people just won’t like you, you don’t have much of a chance of getting your message across to the people who will benefit from it. Perhaps, in an odd sort of way, the fact that one person didn’t like me is a good thing.

What about you? Are you trying too hard to avoid ticking someone off? Does it prevent your focusing on your core message for fear of rejection and judgment? Or have you overcome that? How?

Photo Credit: Daniela Vladimirova via Compfight cc

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.