Fear Less, Speak More
revention is a numbers game; at every training, we have the opportunity to convince our audience to take action to keep the people around them safe. The more people we’re able to reach, the more acts of harm we can potentially prevent. This means that it’s essential that we have a wide range of messengers with strong public speaking skills getting more people engaged and inspired to become involved in prevention.
Of course, the problem here is that for many people, the idea of standing in front of a crowd and talking about ANYTHING is a terrifying prospect. One surveyeven found that public speaking was the most commonly cited fear amongst college students, narrowly beating out fear of dying. I know this feeling first hand; despite having a job where I spend about half my time speaking in front of strangers (yikes), I start many of these days with a full-blown case of butterflies in my stomach. And while there are many other ways people can be involved in prevention efforts beyond public speaking, as we try to build critical mass and cultivate non-traditional messengers-we NEED the voices we don’t always hear. People who fear public speaking may avoid talking in front of a group at all costs, but they have valuable viewpoints, unique contributions, and their own powerful message to bring to an audience.
So here’s the good news: if you’re one of these people-if you have passion and dedication and the only thing that’s keeping you from getting up in front of an audience and talking about prevention is a little something called “abject terror”, there is hope! There’s been a lot of research that suggests fear of public speaking is not an entrenched, inevitable personality trait, but, in fact, something that can be alleviated by using a few techniques. There are three major strategies that are typically used to assist with this fear: exposure therapy, cognitive modification, and skills training (find a summary of these techniques here).
- Exposure training-A commonly used approach to treating phobias, exposure is all about dipping your toes into the water instead of diving right in. By practicing public speaking in safe, manageable settings-for example, delivering a very brief speech or practicing in front of a small, friendly audience-you can begin to see that it’s not quite as bad as you feared. No one booed! No one threw tomatoes! In fact, people even nodded, or smiled, or seemed interested. This will prime you to take on more and more intimidating tasks, now that you’ve demonstrated to yourself that you can handle it.
- Cognitive modification-We often have a lot of negative thoughts about speaking-about how we’ll perform, about how people will react to us. These thoughts are often based in our own insecurities and fears rather than reality, so thinking about how we can mentally spin these negatives into positives can be really helpful. Start paying attention to some of these negative thoughts, and try to look at them in a more realistic light-so when you think, “I’m going to stumble over my words and everyone will judge me,” think, “ I may stumble on a word or two, but so does everyone else-it’s no big deal.”
- Skills training-Public Speaking skills are not something you’re born with, they’re something you learn. There are lots of techniques on how to improve delivery and clarity, and learning about some of these techniques can help you feel more confident getting up in front of the room. In addition, taking time to thoroughly practice and prepare in advance can increase confidence for the real deal.
At the end of the day, no matter who you are, or what your skills are, there’s a role for you to play in prevention. But if you think you can do some good out there in front of an audience, don’t give up! With a little patience and lots of practice, you can manage your fear of public speaking and use your voice for the goal of preventing harm.