Jerry Seinfeld, an American comedian, once noted
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
For many of us, public speaking is in fact that frightening. What if we mess up? What if they can’t understand us? What if they don’t listen? What if they laugh at me? These are all realistic possibilities, and it’s hard to push them out of your mind.
This weekend, I helped facilitate the Duke Career Conference. Many successful alumni returned to Duke to give guidance, advice, and to network with current Duke students, and I ended up meeting a lot of interesting people. One alumni who stood out in particular was Ben Sands. He’s a life coach that works with people to help them figure out what they really want out of life and how they are going to get it. In order to really understand yourself, he said, you have to go through some questions. You’re afraid of public speaking. Why? Once you come up with an answer to that, ask yourself “why” again. For example, I might say I’m afraid of public speaking because people might laugh at me. Why am I afraid of people laughing at me? Once you’ve answered that, ask “why” again.
You need to go through this process until you’ve asked “why” 5 times, according to Ben. Then you will have gotten to the root issue that bothers you. Maybe it’s fear of not being good enough or fear of disappointing people. Dealing with that issue is much more difficult than simply imagining the audience in their underwear to make you more comfortable, but recognizing this underlying issue for what it is and dealing with it as best as you can will certainly have a much more lasting effect. Better yet, the positive impact from this understanding will likely extend into areas of your life far beyond public speaking.