What’s the difference between sharing something you know with 3 people or 300? What is it about standing in front of a larger group that strikes fear into our hearts? I did some unscientific research (surveyed 12 friends) and confirmed my hunch… it’s the fear of not meeting expectations.
We all want to be perceived as smart, confident and engaging when we share our ideas. In a small group, the odds are that you can only disappoint a few, right? In a large group, well… do the math.
I remember experiencing this fear ever since that Johnny Appleseed play in 5th grade. I had to sing a love song to a GIRL and give her purple flowers in front of a gym filled with people. Imagine the risk at that age. What were the other boys thinking? What were all the parents thinking? Would I disappoint the teacher?
Maybe you have a similar mortifying experience, or maybe you are just choosing to be self-conscious about your voice, your appearance or your knowledge. Listen… you can more than make up for these imagined shortcomings with your passion, enthusiasm and commitment. I survived my Appleseed moment by going all out in my performance, and actually liked the applause at the end. As it turned out, the audience was pulling for me to be successful.
One of my keys to overcoming fear today is adjusting expectations. In most public speaking opportunities, what you think the audience is thinking and what the audience is actually thinking are entirely different.
- You think you are going too fast. The audience is just fine with the pace.
- You see someone scowling at you in the front row. That guy is actually listening intently and hanging on your every word.
- You think EVERYONE is staring at you to judge you on some silent scorecard. They are actually thinking “I hope you do well because I have to sit through this. Come on, do your best! I want you to succeed!”
In A Wave of Fear, I shared what I do when fear hits me. But maybe we should really get to the source of the fear first? Acknowledging the fear of expectation can give you power over it… a clearly defined enemy that can be defeated. It is as simple as choosing to adjust; lowering your impossible expectations of yourself, and expecting more out of your audience.
You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t sell it… you still got it. Maybe what you should really fear is not living up to your potential. Next time you have an opportunity to show what you know, acknowledge the fear, then step up and conquer it. If you don’t take your shot, the rest of us lose out on hearing your unique voice.