I thought I’d die.
My palms were sweaty, my mind was blank, it was hard to breathe.
“You can do this, you can do this, you can do this,” I repeated, desperately trying to convince myself this had been a good idea even if all my instincts told me to run.
“No, you can’t. Get out right now.”
I heard my name. Too late. It was time to get on stage.
When I was walking up, I could barely hear the cheering audience. I couldn’t stop thinking about my last two gigs that hadn’t gone that well. It’s not that I had been performing worse than when I started few months ago. Far from it. I had improved like crazy.
It didn’t matter. This was different.
After the first gig I was over the moon, because I had pushed my limits and survived. But when I decided to continue doing stand up, surviving wasn’t enough. I had to change the game. I had to get very personal.
See, stand up is not about telling jokes. It’s about authenticity, self depreciation and making fun out of things that are wrong in this world. Things that hurt. There’s no hiding behind power point slides or fancy graphics like with business presentations.
You have to put yourself out there every time – your personality, your sense of humour, your stories.
It’s you on stage, exposed..
I had been trying new material and I knew I was not on my best performance the last few times. Still, hearing afterwards that my last set was “acceptable” hurt. I’m not good enough. I’ll never be good enough.
I was in tears.
When you’ve had one of the lows, it’s very tough to get back on stage. I had wanted to cancel and simply keep watching others perform. It would have been easy.
“Hey, I pushed my limits, I’ve proven myself already. It’s not like I wanted to be a professional stand up comedian anyway. Next challenge!”
But no – I couldn’t. Because I knew that “next time” very easily turns into “never.”
I took a deep breath, looked at the audience and smiled.
The real story how I got rid of my fear of public speaking:
And why do I write this story? Because this moment last Thursday reminded me of the presentation I had to do front of my team of five people five years ago.
My team. Five people. I was a mess.
Even if I normally write about digital, I had to do this as I’ve been asked various times how I got over my fear of public speaking.
Short version: I went to presentation courses, tried stand up and voila!
I wish it had been that easy.
No, there’s no quick fix. Too many times we hear and tell success stories that make everything sound like a piece of cake. It’s the edited version of the truth that makes us look good front of our friends, colleagues and when networking with peers.
A hero getting over a struggle, conveniently leaving the embarrassing and unglamorous parts out.
I’m as guilty as anyone on delivering an elevator pitch. Yes, indeed I got over fear of public speaking thanks to courses, and performing stand up comedy has played the key part in it the last few months.
But only telling that version of the story wouldn’t be fair.
Here’s what you really must know:
1. People judge your content, not who you are
When you are doing a business presentation or talk in a press conference, your content is being judged. Not you as a person. When you realise this, everything changes.
When you do stand up, you as a person are judged. It’s a very vulnerable, scary place to be.
Irony is that to get rid of my fear of public speaking, I had to face a deeper level of fear. 100% worth it though, fully recommend doing a stand up course.
2. Facing your fear once is not enough
Often we make a mistake of doing just one course and showcase presentation – and we feel great, we accomplished our goal!
Yet doing it once doesn’t mean it’ll be easy next time, that you are over your fear. You need to keep making yourself feel uncomfortable and increase audience size and presentation length one piece of a time.
Start with a presentation in a conference call, then do a presentation to your team sitting down, do a presentation to your team standing up, then in a company meeting, and so on and so on.
It’ll get easier, trust me.
I have same nerves now when I do stand up, but I’m chipping it away slowly like I did with presentations: one gig at the time.
3. We all fail, we just don’t talk about it
I remember someone saying, that they can’t imagine a person like me to fail. Oh I have failed many times, but I rarely talk about it. No one really does.
I’m not a great stand up comedian or a mega speaker – yet. When I say I smashed it, I mean I did better than the last time. I still get nervous, just not because of fear of public speaking.
No presentation is perfect. I wanted to share this story from last Thursday, because if I could get up on stage despite failing twice, you can do it as well. Don’t give up, get back up there.
4. Practise, practise, practise
When people say, “I couldn’t just get on stage and perform!” they are right.
You need to practise your talk alone and with a trusted friend or a colleague. After every presentation, push it a bit more. Read through notes, then move into key words on paper, then do a presentation without notes, then finally leave the death by PowerPoint and do one with only images.
5. If you want to grow, you need to keep pushing your comfort zone
Being able to do a presentation, panel discussion or press interview relaxed is huge. The next level however is to bring a personal story and personality in it and then my friend – you are judged as a person.
That’s why I have three other stand up gigs coming in the next eight days even if I’m scared. Telling real, authentic stories give the audience much more value than a pure tech talk or talking about your company.
There’s always the next level. To become a mega speaker, you must be able to risk it and put yourself out there.
Extra tip: You can do it, it’s attainable
Believe me – if a girl who was scared to death to present front of five of her own team members could get over a stage fright, so can you. Just take the first step and go slowly, step by step.
In a way we’re in this journey together.
So, let’s take a deep breath, look at the audience and smile.
I hope this less glamorous version of my story was useful – if yes, hit like or tell your opinion in the comments. Good luck