What I Learned From My Fear Of Public Speaking

In 2012, I said yes to an invitation to speak at SMX Advanced in Seattle. I had never spoken before at an event, let alone a big event like SMS Advanced. I seriously did not expect to speak in front of more than 500 people and be on the same panel with speakers I had great respect for: Eric Enge, Thomas Schmitz and Casie Gillette.

I was so excited when Elisabeth wrote me and confirmed my participation in the event. My mind instantly switched into creative mode. Things were coming through my mind that I hadn’t thought of before. It took me almost two months to feel good about it. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I’m a perfectionist. So it had to be perfect otherwise I wasn’t going to do it.

In the end, I ended up with a good presentation. It was based on my own personal research and it had some interesting conclusions. I was told that I was going to sit in front of a laptop on a podium while presenting so I attached some captions to my slides. I thought they would come in handy in case I forget what I was supposed to say.

Everything was going as expected. Nothing to worry about, right?

The Fear of Public Speaking

When the time came to step up on the stage, my slides were already up on the big screen so I just introduced myself and jumped right into the presentation. That is when I realized that the version of PowerPoint that was installed on the laptop in front of me did not display the captions that I had written for each slide. Suddenly, I forgot everything I was supposed to say. I was frightened and my legs started to shake. At that moment all I wanted was to leave the stage and never come back.

That’s when I recognized a familiar face in the audience. And he smiled at me and said something encouraging. There was a mimic on his face that made me realize that he was really eager to hear what I had to say, that he trusted me and my abilities to talk about something interesting.

So I started concentrating on that person and ignore the other 500 in the room. It was like a vision tunnel. For me, at that point, there was only one person in the room and I was only talking to him.

The fear did not go away easily though. I remember my mouth being extremely dry. I basically could not speak any more. Thank god for that bottle of water right beside me. I have probably taken a sip from it every single slide. People must have thought that where I came from they did not give us too much water to drink!

Luckily, after a few slides, I regained control of my fear and things started to flow well. It helped a lot that my slides were mostly made of images that reminded me of what I had to say.

From the perspective of someone in the room, I was probably the worst speaker they have ever listened to. I was rushing through the slides, did not make eye contact with the audience, did not engage at all, did not even pause to see if people were really following me or not.

At the end of the presentation, people applauded. I was happy! Not sure if I was happy because it ended, or because they liked it. I kept thinking that they only applauded because they had to, because that was a nice thing to do, not because they actually liked it.

When people started to approach me and ask me questions, I realized that my presentation actually gave them some ideas to put things into perspective. They had actually listened to what I had to say.

Takeaways

This experience helped me a lot in losing the dreaded fear of public speaking. I still feel the shivers going down my spine every time I go on a stage, but I always remind myself that if I managed to speak in front of more than 500 people and be part of a panel of speakers that I could only have dreamed of, then any other similar event would be nothing compared to this one.

And you know what? Every presentation that followed was less and less stressful, to the point that I have actually enjoyed the last ones.

1. Build each slide to remind you where you are in the story

One thing that I learned the hard way was to never create slides in my presentations that are not self explanatory. Never try to write down or memorate what you need to say on each slide. It’s a big mistake. Believe me, I tried it. Instead, try to include descriptive images and a some text in the slide content itself like I did. It reminded me why I had included them in the presentation and allowed me to make a story out of each slide.

2. No big effort ever goes to waste

You may think that spending two months researching for this presentation was a big waste. That presenting it in front of just 500 people was not a very good use of my time. That is so far from the truth. There are so many advantages when you build great content, especially when it is based on genuine research that you have made yourself.

Once I realized I had something that people appreciated, I contacted Jennita from Moz and asked her if she thinks my presentation would make a good blog post. She said yes, and the rest is history. The article is called “The Impact of Authoritative Links, Mentions, and Shares on Rankings“ just in case you want to check it out.

The thing is once you commit to something this big, your mind gets focused, because you don’t want to screw up. If there was nothing at stake, you wouldn’t have given it that much attention in the first place.

The biggest outcome is that people start to notice you. I received replies from old friends and made some great new contacts with people that I have always wanted to meet. That’s how opportunities happen. Put yourself out there in front of big audiences and your life will never be the same.

3. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst

Things will never go as you expect them to. Be prepared and don’t worry when something unexpected happens. Try to make a funny situation out of it if possible.

The idea that the world is a safe and predictable place is an illusion. Things may go right or wrong. And most of the time, there is nothing you can do about it. Just accept it and move on.

4. Step out of your comfort zone

Never say no to opportunities that could shape your life. Not only will your life become more exciting, but you’ll also build confidence and increase your ability to meet awesome people.

Every time I go to a conference, I end up with a to do list that keeps me busy for more than 6 months. Most of the great things that shaped my life and business are related to the people that I met and had exchanged ideas with at all the conferences I have attended to.

When you stay inside your comfort zone, you are keeping away all these opportunities. You will never know how how far you can go or what you can accomplish unless you push yourself out of this zone.

5. Always have an open mind

Now that I think about it, the biggest thing that held me back is the fear of what people might think. It’s the voice inside our minds that tells us we’re not good enough, that we’re not yet ready to do the things that we want to do.

I used to think: “What if all these professional speakers see that I’m not any good and I embarrass myself?” Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t allow these thoughts to hold you back even if it means exposing yourself, sometimes even making a fool of yourself. That is fine. By allowing yourself to be less perfect you’ll soon realize that people will like you more, because you are a more exciting person to be around.

Now it’s your turn. Be brave and share your own experiences below. It will make you a stronger person and make things easier the next time you try to accomplish your dreams.

It’s about time…

its-about-time

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