They say the fear of public speaking ranks among the highest of all fears. It affects so many people it even has its own name: glossophobia.
In my 25+ year career as a coach, consultant and trainer I have witnessed firsthand the paralyzing affect this fear has on some people.
Last week we talked about the Habit of Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable and the article resonated with a reader named Ted who called to tell me how he applied this habit in order to further his own career.
Some 20 years ago Ted had applied for a position in sales with an international software company.
Unbeknownst to Ted, at the time the chosen method of sales for this company was to invite groups of IT professionals to a local hotel, feed them an expensive meal, ply them with alcohol and then present the benefits of their software by way of a demonstration workshop.
In other words, public speaking.
Ted told me that when he arrived for his interview his expectation, as would be normal for most of us applying for a job, was that he would meet with one, perhaps two people in an office-like environment where he would be seated across from them and would endeavor to answer all questions to the best of his ability.
To his surprise, when called from the waiting room he was escorted into an auditorium-like room, occupied by some 75+ people. He was led to a podium at the front on which three envelopes had been placed.
Ted was told to pick one of the envelopes, open it, read out loud the sentence written on a slip of paper inside the envelope, and then, with one minute of preparation time, he was to “sell” the assembled audience on the topic stated inside the envelope.
Ted explained to me that as he began to understand what was being requested of him, he could feel his heart beating so rapidly he was waiting for it to burst through his chest and take off across the auditorium like a missile.
He gingerly opened one of the envelopes, glanced at a sheet of paper which contained the words “Capital punishment – a good way of ending a bad life.”
He said the 60 seconds preparation time seemed like a nanosecond and he has little recollection of what he did or said after a booming voice from the back of the room instructed him to “begin.”
He clearly remembered leaving the interview as quickly as possible and heading for the nearest bar where he gulped down several shots of “medicinal whiskey” in the hopes he would pass out, wake up and realize this had simply been a nightmare.
To his utter surprise, he received a phone call the next day with an offer of employment. He later found out that he was hired because, in the words of his boss, his podium performance had been, “the least worst of all the applicants.”
Ted was faced with a dilemma. He knew that in order to succeed in this position he would have to become a skilled, competent and convincing public speaker. He knew he would need to master the Habit of Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.
He joined a Toastmasters club and attended every weekly meeting without exception. But one meeting a week was not enough so he scouted, and found different Toastmasters clubs in his area and attended a different club as a guest every day. He never turned down an opportunity to speak and over time, while the fear never left completely, he became quite accepting and comfortable with the butterflies that gathered his stomach.
For more than a year, except when away on business, Ted attended six Toastmasters meetings each week and made himself available as a guest presenter at the many breakfast clubs scattered throughout his city.
The thought of each new presentation brought along with it all the anxiety of that first interview but over time Ted’s constantly improving skill increased his comfort level and his panic button became less active.
Within three years he had become one of the top five salespeople in the organization.
Ted explained to me that the only way to overcome any fear is to face it head-on and conquer it. Learning to force yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is not an option if you wish to succeed, according to Ted, and to test his level of comfort within discomfort he has bungee jumped and sky dived, all the while absorbing the panic in the knowledge that it exists only in his head and nowhere else and that focus and perspective can become either a debilitating enemy or a powerful, motivating ally.
The Habit of Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. We choose to either acquire this or to stand forever forlornly in front of the insurmountable wall that blocks us from reaching our goals.
Which do you think is the better choice?
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
P.S. My company recently introduced a new coaching experience for those daring enough to transform their lives. Here is our Ebrochure for the “Boot Camp for Your Brain” experience. Please contact me if you believe it is your time for explosive growth.
– I have recently completed a series of radio interviews. If you would like to listen to them, here is a link.
I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas or suggestions once you have listened to the interviews. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
– Robert French – an accomplished author – recently posted a flattering review of my book, Life Sinks or Soars, the Choice is Yours. Please click here and take a moment to read it.
– Here is another review of my book by Actionable Books.