Talking Big Ideas.
“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it.”
~ Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
We ran through the redwood forest and crested a ridgeline at sunset.
There was no one else around. Just me and one of my closest friends, surrounded by stunning beauty. Some of the trees were older than Christianity.
We followed a trail through a remote nature preserve in Northern California. On the way back we turned off our headlamps and stepped into the brush. We sat in darkness among the ancient giants, enjoying the silence.
That moment epitomized peace to me.
At least, it did until my friend finally spoke: “You know, this would be utterly terrifying for virtually all our ancestors.”
I was confused. It felt more like a meditation retreat.
The only reason we found it peaceful, he said, was because our recent ancestors killed off all the predators that lived in the forest. For most of history, humans alone in the woods at night would find themselves surrounded by large predators with superhuman speed, razor sharp teeth, and night vision.
I imagined seeing a bunch of eyes staring back at me, piercing the darkness. Surrounding me. Hunting me. It would be terrifying.
Consider finding yourself like this:
- Separated from your tribe
- In an open place
- Nowhere to hide
- Surrounded by creatures staring at you
The author Scott Bakun writes, “in the long history of all living things, any situation where all the above are true was very bad for you.”
Yet this is precisely the situation we find ourselves in when we step behind a podium to speak in public.
More than 80 percent of business leaders say public speaking is the scariest thing they do. Leonardo DiCaprio was so nervous about speaking at the Oscars one time that he hoped he wouldn’t win the academy award he was nominated for. Mark Twain wrote that “there are two types of speakers: those who are nervous, and those who are liars.”
This fear is not rational. It’s primal. We are wired to be afraid of predators hunting us. Public speaking simply triggers this timeless terror.
Thankfully, we can do something about it. We never completely silence the fear. But with effort we can turn it into excitement.
To quote Bakun again, “Can you guess what most people who are worried about their presentations refuse to do? Practice.”
Fear can be paralyzing. We hide when we need to confront it.
Public speaking courses have a big impact on reducing fear. And I’m not sure we need the actual courses. What we need are the reps.
Ask yourself, when were you more nervous: on your first date or your tenth? How about your first day of school versus your hundredth?
The first time walking into Cobra Kai’s karate dojo may be terrifying. But after a few months? It’s just practice.
The same is true with speaking. Our first time behind the podium may be terrifying. But our fiftieth time? It can be exciting.
The key to turning fear into excitement is practicing out of the limelight.
The more we practice, the more we work out kinks, fix mistakes, and get useful feedback. We build confidence. We put our rational mind back in control.
To overcome our fear, we have to face it.
It takes effort to convince our brains that we are not our audience’s dinner.
Block off three short sessions right now on your calendar to practice speaking. They can be for as little as five minutes. When you practice, imagine standing in front of a large audience. Tell them a story about what you enjoy about your work.
***** Maryrose and I spent the past month enjoying time with family in Ohio. On Monday morning, we walked along the Maumee River with my brother John.
We saw bald eagles and blue herons. We watched hawks circle overhead for food. We talked about feeling grateful that we aren’t hunted by flying predators. And then we remembered that, actually, we are.
Our apex predator hunts us from the air.
In truth, we should be less afraid of stepping behind the podium than stepping outside without bug spray.
Regardless, let’s make lots of time for practice!
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