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Confessions of a public speaker: Three fears that haunted me from the stage and how I beat them

Mar 26, 2024 | Communication

So, picture this: you’re about to step onto a stage, heart pounding, palms sweaty, knees…well, you get the idea. And there I am, backstage, flipping through my notes like they’re going to magically calm me down. Spoiler alert: they don’t. Welcome to the glamorous life of a public speaker. Here are three fears I had that led to mistakes, which I don’t you to make.

Fear #1:My Speech isn’t Interesting.

My biggest fear? Looking out into the audience and spotting someone who looks like they’re mentally compiling their grocery list rather than listening to me. So, what do I do? I turn into a human lighthouse, scanning the room for any signs of disinterest. Bad move. All it does is make me more nervous, and when I find that pearson it’s like a flaming arrow to extinguish confidence.

Fear #2: Running out of Things to Say

Then there’s the terror of running out of things to say. I mean, what if I’m up there, all eyes on me, and I get through all of my slides and there’s still 20-minutes left. What a horrifying thought. To combat this, I used to pack my speeches like a suitcase for a month-long vacation – way too much stuff. The result? A sprint through my slides that would not help anyone. Not exactly the engaging experience I was aiming for.

Fear #3: The Wedding Crasher 

And then I used to have this fear of someone in the audience standing up and disagreeing with me. You know, like that moment in weddings when the officiant asks if anyone objects, and everyone holds their breath. Except in my nightmare, someone actually stands up and shouts, “I object!”. It’s irrational, sure, but it haunted me.

Embracing the Chaos

So, how did I get over these fears? Well, it didn’t happen overnight but here are some things that began to exercise the ghosts from my house.

  • To the potential people tuning out in the crowd, I stopped judging them. What I mean is, I don’t know what’s going on for them. Maybe they didn’t sleep last night, maybe their mom is in the hospital and they are checking in. Maybe, just maybe they are deep in thought reflecting on my last point. I don’t know what’s going on so I stopped trying to be a mind reader. 

I also accepted that in a crowd of 100 people at least three of them are going to think you’re an idiot so it’s unrealistic to expect everyone is hanging on your every word. But the biggest thing that helped was I started looking for all the ones who were engaged with me. Those were the faces I spoke to. 

  • To the fear of running out of things to say, I’ve embraced the art of the pause. Turns out, silence can be pretty powerful. It gives me a moment to breathe and collect my thoughts, and it gives the audience a break from my rambling. I still pack too many things in the suitcase, but now I just have a Bonus Point for the audience in case I finish early, which I never do. The Bonus Point is sort of like insurance that I never use and they never get to hear. 
  • And to the hypothetical wedding crasher? Bring it on. I’ve learned that a little disagreement can actually spice things up. It’s an opportunity for engagement, for dialogue, and hey, it proves people are listening. But after 2,500 speeches, it only happened once, but it wasn’t because the person disagreed with me, but that they were struggling with mental illness and stood up to say something that no one could understand. 

The Moral of the Story

Public speaking is an adventure, complete with dragons to slay (or at least have a polite conversation with). It’s taught me to embrace my fears, to laugh at myself, and to find joy in the unpredictability of it all.

So, to all my fellow speakers with stage fright, remember: perfection is overrated. It’s our quirks, our stumbles, and yes, even our fears, that make us relatable. Let’s own our stage jitters and turn them into part of our charm. After all, if we can laugh at ourselves, the audience will likely laugh with us, not at us.


There’s a better leader inside all of us.

Hi, I’m James Robbins and i’ts my life’s work to help leaders reach their highest potential. Click below to get free tools and resources to help you become the leader everyone wants to follow.

About James Robbins

James is a rare mix of management consultant, change specialist, adventurer and motivational speaker. He speaks to audiences worldwide, helping them raise their performance to match their potential. He has been helping equip and transform leaders for over 20 years.

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