When I was a little kid, I was terrified to speak. I was so scared of it, that some people thought I was mute.
It took me quite a few years to understand, but the real fear wasn’t speaking, it was speaking in front of other people.
More than two people to be exact.
If there was one person in front of me, I could manage a few words. But when it became more than a one-on-one conversation, fear made me freeze.
I think all of us have some level of this fear built in. Typically, we each have a set-point or a ‘number’ that determines where our fear of public speaking begins.
For some of us, we are comfortable speaking in front of 2 or 3 people, yet get uneasy when there is a group of 5 or 10. For others, it might be 25 or 50 people listening to them that causes them start to sweat.
The important point to know is that there is no way to completely lose your fear, rather you become used to it. You accept it and work through it.
For me, after 5 years of speaking in front of groups, I am reasonably comfortable up to about 200-300 people. Anything beyond that and I start to get a sense of intensity about me. It’s not exactly fear, rather the need to make sure I am doing everything correctly.
One of my speaking mentors, Dananjaya Hettiarachichi recently delivered a speech to 40,000 people at the annual Rotary convention. I have to admit that a ‘number’ like that is still terrifying for me. It also signals that I have room to grow.
That is the point: when you know your number, your focus should be on pushing a little past it.
If you feel nervous talking in front of 5 people, that is totally ok. Just practice talking to a group of 5 people as often as you can. If your number is 20 or 50, try to get more time talking to groups of that size. When you do this, you will be nervous, but you’ll also get used to talking while nervous.
Focus on your ‘number’ and try to push just a little above it on a regular basis. Soon, this ‘number’ will become more normal for you. You will then find your comfort level growing a little.
The fear of public speaking doesn’t go away, rather it becomes less noticeable. You become accustomed or desensitized to the experience, and it doesn’t affect you as it once did.
But this only happens if you are willing to go beyond your comfort zone. I believe the easiest way to start this is to speak to slightly more people than your comfortable ‘number’.
Ask yourself: how many people are you comfortable speaking in front of right now? Once you know this number, then keep finding a way to speak to slightly more than that size group on a regular basis.
Soon you’ll be ready for a bigger ‘number’ than you ever thought possible.