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September 6, 2013 / playforth

Who’s afraid of the big bad audience?

Some of the things I’ve had to do since taking on a more challenging role at work and trying to be more engaged with my profession have scared me. As an introvert the scary things tended to involve talking to people aka the general area of ‘public speaking’, but recently I realised that I’m not scared of that any more. I’m not sure when I lost my fear – I suppose that, like being able to run 5k, it was incremental. There wasn’t a sudden flash of brilliance where I delivered some piece of inspirational oratory and became supremely confident because of it. The confidence doesn’t come from any great faith in my ability, so where did it come from? (Nb the following points aren’t meant as lessons, just a bit of structured reflection on my own experience!)

1. Just do it/distant elephants

You can do a thing and be scared, and usually nobody else notices you’re scared, and it’s fine. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is a good approach for getting things done and progressing in your career, life etc, but after a while the fear is quite tiring. Finding a way to do the thing and NOT feel the fear is surely even better, in the long term. And it’s the long term that does it, really. The more times you do something, the less scary it is. Just keep doing it. I actively embrace the phenomenon of ‘distant elephants’ to make myself do things – basically accepting potentially scary opportunities that are so far in the future they seem manageable. Once the thing is upon me it’s massive and terrifying but by that time it’s too late to back out…

2. Reverse paranoia

Reverse paranoia is a state of mind where you believe that everyone is on your side. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but once I tricked my mind into it, a lot of my social/performance anxiety went away. Of course these people listening to me don’t want me to fail! That’s embarrassing for everyone! Of course they’ll think the best of me, not the worst! They’re not monsters! Reverse paranoia is related to battling impostor syndrome – making yourself believe that you do deserve to be where you are, that you do know what you’re talking about, that you aren’t the only one pretending in a room full of the real thing. Which brings me to…

3. Objectivity

Objectively, I’m very unlikely to be the worst speaker people have ever heard. Objectively, I probably do know more about what I’m here to talk about than the people I’m talking to (see point 4 below). And objectively, it doesn’t matter THAT much in the grand scheme of things if I screw up.

4. Knowing the subject

I know my job and my projects inside out and that means that even if people are judging my voice, my face, my hair, my shoes or my bad jokes, I won’t be faltering when it comes to the content. This applies to poetry readings as well (I suppose people might hate my poems but I don’t feel on uncertain ground reading them, because they’re mine and nobody else could have written them.)

5. Positive feedback

All the self-affirmation and deliberate reverse paranoia in the world wouldn’t be enough if I never got any positive feedback from my audience/colleagues. When I do, I don’t allow myself to second guess compliments or think ‘they’re just saying that’ (ie point 2 again.) If I’ve managed to get some information or ideas across or inspire a further discussion, then I’ve succeeded, and I’ve decided to focus on that rather than whether I had the wrong slide up or a red face or something stuck in my teeth.

Photo by MyEyeSees on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

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