Updated: Nov 17, 2022
A dose of perspective to “flip the fear” of public speaking and focus on making an impact
And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair … Do I dare Disturb the universe? — T. S. Eliot
Fear as Energy
Reading the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” today affects me the same way it did when I first heard it read aloud over thirty years ago.
It sends a rush of oxygen to the flame that lives inside of me, which says “I want to do something in this world.”
We have such a short time here on Earth. I have this love and energy inside of me — I want it to come out and touch the world. I don’t want to be trapped inside dreams too small.
Most of the things we worry about end up as not even a blip on the radar of our week, let alone our lifetime or the history of the Universe.
Why is this important?
First, putting fear into perspective.
Think back to every anxious thought you have had before a speech. Perhaps some of these are familiar:
What if my voice shakes?
I am so worried my mind will go blank.
If my face turns red I will be so embarrassed.
How horrifying that I might sweat and the stains are visible when I am presenting.
Trapped in dreams too small is right. It becomes ridiculous to think about what becomes so genuinely anxiety-provoking that it keeps us up at night and figures in our minds as a big deal.
Dare to Disturb the Universe?
How can I even attempt to do such a thing when I am preoccupied with such small anxieties?
Second, and this is the true key, wouldn’t it be more effective to use the energy from creating a state of fear in the mind and body to instead try and “disturb the universe” with the impact of the speech?
The real big deal
Looking at things this way, anxieties become distractions from the speaker's true purpose and what really matters:
making an impact
delivering a message of value to the audience
saying something that matters and makes a difference in someone else’s life
bringing information, context, or thoughts that could change the world
This “flipped” thinking is the start of harnessing fear and purposefully transforming it into the power to persuade.
Remember, the energy will be there regardless if you let it run rampant in your body and mind as fear and anxiety, or if you take control of it and exert its power purposefully and in alignment with the delivery of your message.
Energy With a Purpose
Congruence is key to channelling fear, or nervous energy, strategically into captivating, powerful, and engaging speaking.
Imagine the speaker who gets up to the podium having:
planned on “just winging it”
no defined goal for the speech
no clear and specific call to action for the audience
This speech goes as you can imagine. Likely the speaker/speech is perceived as one or more of the following:
At best, the speaker might broadly get their point across, but there is so much additional “stuff” that the message is ultimately lost on the audience.
Now imagine the speaker who gets up having:
a clear outline including a “hook” in the introduction, three key points, and a distinct conclusion ending with a call to action
re-lived and prepared a specific story/experience which evokes strong emotion in the audience and serves to illustrate the speech’s key points
practiced purposeful body language including punctuating movements, silence and stillness, eye contact with the audience, and fluidity so natural it looks unplanned
rehearsed precise delivery of the call to action to ensure clarity, impact, and emphasis on keywords
This is congruence.
In other words, it is the purposeful and practiced alignment of:
Words: language and structure
Voice: tone, pitch, modulation, and silence
Movement: purposeful movement including expression, gestures, motion, and stillness
The basis of congruence is a laser-sharp intention for the impact of the speech and a comprehensive vision for how this will be achieved.
For example, a speaker who wishes to convey the importance of wearing a seatbelt and not drinking and driving might use:
Heavy words that convey the severity of the topic such as killed, life-sentence, paralyzed, devastating, and tragic
Grave tones of voice in low to loud volume punctuated with periods of long silence
Stillness, slow, purposeful movement, aligned with the heaviness of the topic
Whereas, a speaker intending to energize and excite an audience before delivering a sales pitch call to action might use:
Positive words and examples of joy, or enthusiasm
Lifting and lilting tones, conveying energy and matching the vocal pitch with enthusiasm
Quick, purposeful, large or grandiose movements contrasted with stillness to evoke excitement
Putting it all together
To recap, fear is potential energy.
Those with the most energy, have the greatest opportunity to connect with an audience and make an impact.
The secret to harnessing fear includes:
A healthy perspective on what really matters (making an impact) and what doesn’t (anxiety over speaking)
Practiced congruence, meaning strategically directing energy through prepared words, intentional vocal variety, and purposeful movement to enhance message delivery
When a speaker can use the energy of fear and direct it to strategically reinforce their message, they experience the power of “flipping the fear” and gain the ability to truly “disturb the universe.”