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How to Get Over the Fear of Public Speaking

The NUMBER ONE fear is the fear of speaking in front of people.
The number two fear is the fear of DYING.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, “That means that most people at a funeral would prefer to be the guy in the box than the guy giving the eulogy.”

My introduction to stage fright was when I was 8 years old working birthday parties as a magician. Before each magic show, there I was in the bathroom throwing up. Being a magician is scary. If I forgot one prop, I would be publicly humiliated. After all, turning a glass of sugar into a goldfish isn’t a great trick if you’ve forgotten the goldfish, or the water the goldfish was in. I'm sure some of the children in the audience are still in therapy over that mistake.

You might think that my fear has lessened since I make a living from performing... it hasn't.

Actually, over time, MY FEAR ESCALATED as I became a professional magician traveling with huge containers full of props. Then, my worse fears came true when my tricks didn’t show up for a gig and I had to perform without them. Many of you read about this in my first book, Stand-Up Comedy: The Book, when going up without magic tricks pushed me instantly, on the spot, into comedy. I don’t know how many other comics got their start because of United Airlines.

I’d like to say that not needing props reduced my anxiety, but it didn’t. Switching to comedy, I just had myself on stage and the never-ending worry, “What if they DON'T LAUGH?” Fears don’t entirely go away; they change. The same thing could be said about THIGHS.

When I transitioned and became a professional speaker, my fears transformed to this thought, “AM I A FRAUD?” My mother wasn’t alive to do the undermining; it was all left to me, but I was good at it. “Who are you to speak to CEOs, businesses, and hospitals?” I asked myself. “What if they don’t respect me?”

Last week, I had THREE SPEAKING engagements and I realized that my fear has decreased. No throwing up...no nightmares...no compulsive over-eating. Well... 2 out of 3 ain't bad. I had to ask myself, "WHAT CHANGED?"

What helped curb my fears was the realization that they were a function of NOT getting something – approval, laughs, applause. That IS a scary place to be. Because when you WANT something from others, you are powerless. You can’t control their reactions. It’s why we have those dreams about being naked on stage. I wonder what strippers dream about.

So…here’s something that ratcheted down my stage fright. I focus on what I’m GIVING the audience. I make sure that everything I say is AUTHENTIC and HELPFUL. We’ve all been to an open mic with a performer who NEEDS our laughs. We feel burdened - it’s an energy drain. GIVING to an audience GENERATES ENERGY. Sometimes on stage, it feels like a tennis match with the energy going in both directions.

BEFORE YOU SPEAK OR PERFORM – go over your material to make sure that your message is FOR THEM, rather than FOR YOU. Focusing on giving is likely to bring down your fear levels.

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