The first thing you should realize about fear is that it’s actually a good thing. If not for our fears, most of us wouldn’t be around today. Our fears are a key component of our natural defense system. They keep us from being totally reckless and doing stupid things that could injure or even kill us, like stepping out in front of a bus. They also trigger mental and physical responses that help us assess and deal with difficult and potentially threatening situations.
When confronted with a situation that involves a significant element of risk, our fears cause us to be highly focused and in the moment. Our endorphins start pumping and our minds are wiped clean of all of the petty thoughts, problems and concerns that typically reside there. The past and the future are of no concern. All that matters is the present. Things instantly become crystal clear, especially our fight or flight options and their potential consequences. We are 100% alert and ready to respond at a moment’s notice. For this moment in time, we couldn’t be more fully alive!
Our fears challenge, excite and energize us. Who hasn’t taken pleasure from facing a personal fear head on? If not for the human desire to ‘feel the rush’ how would one explain the existence of roller coasters, scary movies and extreme sports?
If you think people who engage in activities such as sky diving, white water rafting, big mountain skiing and the like are fearless, think again. It was their fears that drew them to the sport in the first place and the thrill that comes from facing those fears that brings them back.
Fears are not the problem. We all have them and thank goodness we do. The problem is that occasionally we let our fears get out of hand and respond to them in ways that are counterproductive. Often we attribute them to situations where they have no true basis and/or serve no useful purpose thereby placing unnecessary limitations on ourselves (e.g. the fear of flying). And sometimes we exaggerate them, even to the point where they literally paralyze us.
The trick to keeping our fears in check is not to ignore them, or to try to will them away. The trick is to understand and manage them. We need to leverage their benefits and control or mitigate their negative effects. In other words, we need to embrace our fears and put them to good use.
When it comes to public speaking, a little bit of fear is definitely a good thing, especially at the onset of a presentation. It sharpens our focus, gives clarity to our thoughts and pumps up our inner reserves giving us the energy to go up there and deliver our message with a level of enthusiasm impossible to achieve in a totally calm state. Manage it well and what you may feel as fear or nervousness, the audience sees and hears as excitement, enthusiasm and conviction.
The day you present without fear is the day you should be truly afraid
(most people in the business)