Public Speaking: Embrace that Feeling of Wanting to Vomit

I decided to take a short break from my Tales of a Young Entrepreneur series and talk about the thing we fear more than death – public speaking. Jerry Seinfeld once made the joke that our number one fear is public speaking, followed by death. So at a funeral, people would rather be the one in the casket than the one giving the eulogy. While I personally know some great public speakers, I know far more people who die a little bit on the inside when thinking about having to speak in front of a crowd.

While I am someone who’s never really had a problem with public speaking, I sympathize with those who dread it. In fact, I always make it a point to volunteer to speak whenever I’m doing a group presentation. That way, if there is someone who really does have that fear, they can relax a little and we can work better as a team. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing these people a disservice, because the reality is that to get better at public speaking, you have to do it more often. The only way to get over that sick feeling you get in your gut at the thought of public speaking is to simply do it and grow a tolerance for it. We can grow a tolerance for just about anything we’re exposed to: alcohol, spicy food, pain, you name it. The more exposure we have to it, the more our tolerance grows.

This afternoon, I had to give my very first professional conference presentation. I spoke for almost 45 minutes about running fire drills to a bunch of people I had only just met, something I had never quite done before. I think overall it went really well, and I had several people come up to me afterwards saying how much they enjoyed it – success! Or was it…?

I’m going to share a secret with you all that I wouldn’t normally share with most people. Even though I felt prepared and was confident the presentation would go well, I was pretty damn nervous to give that presentation. At one point, I replayed a memory I had from 9th grade where I had to give a presentation in my English class and my pubescent voice decided to crack right in the middle of it, making me go up a full octave. My English teacher used to call me the Barry White of our class since I had a pretty deep voice then, but the downside is that when it cracked, EVERYONE noticed.

Could me being nervous to speak in front of a large crowd mean I’m not actually a very good public speaker? Perhaps. Though I don’t necessarily think so, and here’s why. People get nervous. It’s a natural response from our bodies to get that queasy feeling when we feel there is something high at stake or that we have something to lose (in the case of public speaking, it’s often fear of losing credibility or losing acceptance from your peers). However, like spicy food, I have developed a tolerance for this nervous feeling which makes it far easier to deal with. Because of this tolerance, I can ignore the feeling and instead focus on the task at hand. If anything, I feel that nervousness actually enhances my performance rather hinder it, because it signals to me that I really care about the thing I’m nervous about.

As a budding entrepreneur and the CEO of a new startup, public speaking is a guarantee and something I must accept. I’ve come to realize that just because people get nervous to do something, doesn’t mean they can’t be comfortable doing so or be good at it. This will be important for me to keep in mind as I will soon be giving the biggest presentation of my life: a pitch to tell a panel of judges why they should give our business, Ucraft Brew, $50,000 dollars. If the thought of losing out on $50,000 doesn’t make you a tad nervous, you are a far more saintly person than I.

Which side of the public speaking fence are you on? Do you have any tips to help get you through it? Feel free to share in the comments below.