I remember standing behind the lectern in classroom 2370 in the Haley Center at Auburn University. As an undergraduate student in Speech Pathology, I was the President of the National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association. My role that day was to introduce our national speaker. Everyone, I was sure, expected a stellar introduction. What they got that day, however, was far from stellar.
I quickly became horrified that my body was not working properly. My hands shook uncontrollably. My vision was blurry. As I began to speak, my voice wiggled like Jell-O. I heard something high-pitched and thin—like an old woman’s voice. But it was mine. Then I heard a bass drum pounding time: the blood in my ears was punctuating my every heartbeat.
What I was experiencing wasn’t a case of the jitters, but a physical reaction to fear. Fear of public speaking. I assure you: that fear was real. I stepped off that podium and softly swore that I would never put myself in that position again.
Fast forward about 25 years. Today I make a living speaking and coaching others to become better speakers and communicators. Many of them would rather eat metal shavings than make a verbal presentation. Their fear is real. But their desire to improve is even stronger.
My transformation into a professional communicator didn’t just happen. It was an act of the will. Fear of public speaking can be overcome with training, practice and the desire to improve.
Sometimes all it takes to begin is the need to be heard over the pounding of your heart.