Photo: Oscar Keys
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
In just a couple of minutes, I would be called up on stage in front of a crowd of about a hundred people.
All the new attendees had to give a short introduction of themselves. I had already seen a couple of them go up on stage, deliver their short speech with confidence and receive a round of applause afterwards.
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I was up next.
Logically, I knew I shouldn’t be afraid, but for some reason, I was scared to death of speaking in public. (1)
I had no control over my body. My heart started to beat uncontrollably fast, my hands got sweaty and my mouth literally dried up — it felt like I was about to face a life and death situation.
So many negative thoughts crossed my mind.
What if I stumble over my words?
What if they don’t like what I say?
What if I fail?
And just like that, before I was called up on stage — I stood up — and left the room.
Once again my fear of public speaking prevented me from expressing myself confidently.
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The turning point
“Fear is temporary. Regret is forever.”
Eventually, I got sick and tired of giving this fear control over my life and so I made a decision to conquer my fear of public speaking once and for all.
I had to seek solitude and spend time alone to face my deepest insecurities.
So, I searched online and planned a four-day getaway far away from home.
No social media. No distractions.
Just me alone with my thoughts.
During the time off, I would walk for several hours across the beautiful countryside whilst writing down my thoughts in my journal. (2)
I discovered that my fears were driven by painful events that had occurred in my past.
There were a handful of moments in my childhood where I had opened up and expressed myself publicly, but instead of being praised, I was laughed at, ridiculed and rejected.
And then I had a eureka moment:
My fears were not my enemy, they were there to protect me.
I didn’t have to fight or battle with my fears. I simply had to make peace with them by acknowledging why they existed in the first place, appreciate the purpose they served and then let them go.
By the end of my getaway, I had written a book’s worth amount of pages in my journal and begun the process of making peace with my fears and insecurities.
Most importantly, I walked away with a greater sense of gratitude. Gratitude for everything I had, who I was and being alive in itself.
I had set out initially to conquer my fears, but instead I ended up making friends with them.
“Confront your fears and they won’t be your fears anymore.”
Slowly but surely I started to put myself out there again.
I started small by raising my hand to ask questions at crowded public events and slowly built up to speaking in front of a small group of friends at social gatherings.
Each time I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, it felt like another ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders—freedom at last.
Within a couple of months, I was public speaking in front of a small group of strangers. I still had that weird feeling in my chest, but this time it was excitement not fear.
Today, I have the freedom and confidence to express myself in public speaking.
Although I am far from perfect, I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to regularly deliver speeches in front of hundreds of people—to audiences across different nationalities, ages and walks of life.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt whilst public speaking is simply this:
It’s not about you, it’s about having a positive impact on someone else’s life. (3)
As the speaker, we have a tendency to focus on ourselves, our fears and insecurities but the truth is there’s always someone in the audience who needs to hear your message.
Your message has the power to transform someone’s life or even prevent them from committing life terminating decisions.
If you have this frame of my mind—that of giving and serving others with public speaking, your fears will no longer hold you back from confidently speaking in public.
Here’s a quick summary of some practical tips to conquer your fear of public speaking.
- Take some time away from distractions to be alone with yourself, identity the root cause of your fears and make peace with your insecurities.
- Journal your thoughts and reflections on life daily.
- Start really small by speaking in front of people you are already comfortable with, then build up slowly to speaking to strangers.
- Practice privately recording yourself and watching afterwards.
- Start and end your day by reflecting on a handful of things you are grateful for.
- Surround yourself with like-minded positive and supportive people.
- Find a mentor and invest in learning how to develop your speaking skills.
- Focus on how you can help the audience and leave them better off.
Pick one of these to focus on and test to see whichever works best for you.
In the end, life is too short to let fear control your life. The world needs to hear your message, don’t let the fear of what other people think to hold you back.
Your self-worth has absolutely nothing to do with what other people think about you.
Take that first step today — make peace with your insecurities and face your fears.
Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical ideas at the intersection of science, art, and philosophy, for better thinking and decision-making. You can join his free weekly newsletter here.
A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “How I (Finally) Overcame My Fear Of Public Speaking.“
- A 1973 study of fears cited that people feared public speaking more than death, though some recent studies have placed death as number one.
- One groundbreaking study has shown that keeping journal can help alleviate stress, improving mental and physical well-being.
- I found this interesting study by research psychologist Dutton. The study showed that workers focused on contribution were happier and more productive.
- I couldn’t find the originator of the image to credit, if you come across this please let me know who you are.
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