For all of my life, I’ve had a crippling fear of public speaking. When I say crippling, I mean mind-altering, mood-altering, body-altering crippling fear.
In high school, when I was asked to give a speech in front of my Language Arts class, I cried to my teacher each day after class until the the speech day arrived. I remember thinking she would have to let me out of this, given how distressed I was.
Anything less would be child abuse, right?
Wrong. My choices were I could give the speech, or I could take an F. I was a straight-A student, but I seriously considered taking that F. Instead, I read directly off of my note cards as quickly as possible, making eye contact with exactly no one in my class. As I read, my hands shook, my voice shook and my armpits sweat.
After I finished, I excused myself to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and buried my head in my hands until the next class.
The next speech I had to give was during my senior year of college.
We were traveling through Germany with a group of students on a study tour about WWII and the Holocaust. We had very little homework that semester, got to travel though Europe, and received college credit. Every college student’s dream, right? Our one task was to research an event from WWII and present to the class at the location where that event had occurred.
In other words, we were supposed to give a speech.
And even though the speech was only to 25 people, I panicked. I would have rather read 100 books and written 100 essays than given that speech. I begged my professor to let me out of it. “I’ll probably faint,” I said.
He told me, “You need to remind yourself—you know something your classmates don’t.”
His words stuck with me, although I resisted them. I gave the speech, with shaky hands and an even shakier voice, and the whole time I was thinking: “If my classmates wanted to know what I know about the holocaust, they could just read the gosh darn book!”
But later, his advice came back around in a really good way.
Last September, I published a book. And apparently, when you call yourself a writer, people begin calling you a speaker as well. This seems strange to me, since writers tend to be introverted types—more comfortable behind their pens and computers than standing in front of thousands of curious eyes.
But the strange thing that happened for me was, the more I wrote, the more I desired to speak in front of people. It was weird, but suddenly I felt like, if I didn’t overcome my fear of public speaking, it would be as if I was rejecting a gift I had been given to share with others.
It would be like I was rejecting a part of myself.
So, I sought the help of my friend.
Her name is Amy and she’s a speaking coach, so she helps people overcome their fears of public speaking all the time. She worked with me to get comfortable on a stage by looking people in the eyes and having short, one-on-one conversations with each of them. It helped. When we were practicing, I felt more comfortable.
But then I would go speak in front of a few audiences—and still feel the way I always had.
Shaky. Sweaty. Miserable.
Then, Amy told me: “You know, I think your fear is mostly in your head. What you need to remember is that people want to hear from you. They invited you to their event. You wrote a book, after all! You have something to say.”
It was the same advice my professor had given me, wrapped in a different package.
And this time, it made perfect sense.
I did have something to say. I had so much to say I had written an entire book about it. And if someone were to ask me about my book, I could sit and have an hour long conversation about it, no visible shaking necessary.
The next time I stepped on stage, I kept all of that in mind. “I have something to say,” I kept telling myself to calm the butterflies. “They invited me here to share what I know.” and “It’s just like having a conversation.” I still felt a little nervous, honestly. But when I stepped off stage this time, I was met with something totally unexpected.
More than a handful of people told me that day: “You seem like you were made for this.”
And you know what? I truly believe I was.
It’s funny how often this happens—how the thing we were made to do winds up being our biggest fear, and that fear winds up keeping us from it. I’m not sure what it is for you. Public speaking, maybe. Writing. Launching a business. Being a mom. Starting a ministry. But whatever it is, I just want to say: I know the fear can be crippling.
But I also know something else: You have something nobody else has. You know something they don’t know.
And if you choose not to share it—to hold it back—that’s your choice. But the world will miss what you were supposed to give. And chances are, you’ll miss it too.
Not to mention, if you aren’t sure what your gifts are—if you’re still trying to figure that out (most of us are)—pay close attention to your greatest fears. Often they point you in the right direction.