It’s Never Too Late – Conquering Fear of Public Speaking

They say it takes a village. In my case it took a village’s worth of coaches!

To do what you wonder? To overcome my fear of public speaking.

Most people who know me will be very surprised – it’s been a well-kept secret.

I am a real people person, who loves networking and connecting people and ideas. Interestingly, people love to tell me their life secrets. Even perfect strangers, including Dick Wolf of Law and Order fame (who sat next to me on a Southwest flight), as well as many Wall Street corporate executives have given me TMI (too much unsolicited information).

But put me in front of an audience, and I have flashbacks of when I ran off the stage in a school play.

According to the Mayo clinic, fear of public speaking is common for many of us. So here are the lessons I learned.

  1. Get the right kind of help

Since I had been a speech coach as part of my corporate communications work, I felt very comfortable interviewing many of the typical executive coaches. Because I already knew what they would tell me, I decided to take a leap of faith into unknown territory and get a voice/acting coach.

Yes, it is true, I really had no idea what a voice coach does. But lucky for me, I met Adele Cabot who has been my guiding light in thick and thin. It turns out that my small voice, which I thought was from my small stature was actually due to chronically tight neck muscles. Bad posture and lack of confidence and experience also contribute. Who knew?

2.  Expect failure

When I first created Judy Jetson for my talk, Reimagine Autoimmune Disease, we experimented with dramatic music.  It worked great in rehearsal, but for the talk, there was a technical glitch, where the music was not in synch. My carefully planned dramatic music, was a technical flop! Even though I was tempted to quit public speaking, my talented coach, Adele Cabot, was able to encourage me to trudge on.  We all have bad days – just keep moving forward.

3.  Keep at it

I found the most frustrating part of coaching C-level executives was getting them to rehearse, not just the night before in the hotel room, but also repeatedly from the time the Power Point deck was roughed out. Just when they had accumulated enough practice to present well, the roadshows would be over. Practice is essential, but no one wants to do the necessary hard work. Try to use a video, get a friend to listen and coach, or even set up a practice webinar so you can review yourself.

4.  Embrace experimentation

Despite many setbacks (technical, timing, etc.), I have made it a point to surround myself with colleagues and friends who are willing to experiment. In this case, Ellen Martin, my long-time writing partner, was instrumental in helping me find the emotional resilience to create “The Lonely Voices of Autoimmune Disease.

5.  Find like-minded communities

Being part of several communities such as XX in Health and Stanford Medicine X gave me the necessary support and inspiration to let go of traditional medical approaches and think about new and different ways to help the large and growing autoimmune community.

6.  Dream big-beyond your fears

Right before my talk at Stanford Medicine X, I was chatting with Marie Ennis O’Connor. She told me, “I really felt nervous, but my desire to get my message out was more important than my nerves.” As I began my talk at Stanford Medicine X, my desire to get people involved in helping to solve the needs of autoimmune patients was foremost in my mind and heart. To my own surprise, I enjoyed telling the story, without any trace of nerves!

When members of the audience complimented me, I smiled inside knowing that I had climbed a mountain of obstacles.

Have you ever been afraid of something and conquered your fear?


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