Now fear this

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Communication, Motivation

10 Comments on “Now fear this”

  1. Nora Says:

    I find it easier to talk to a group of 500 strangers than ten people that I know.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Nora, that tells me that you really value your friends’ opinions, and care that they have a good experience. Nothing wrong with that. Treating the large mob like a large anonymous mob may help you get through the speech, but it might hurt your chances of really connecting with them. What do you think?

  2. Roland Says:

    Greetings, Dave! This is a great post. I have been reading, but too busy to post back for a few weeks.

    I have been doing an indepth study on fear these last few years, and agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. One of the things that I have decided is that fear is one of those nonessential issues that people develop through lack of understanding.

    Due to my occupations, my hobbies, my family, and my kids, all of which seem to intertwine, I have experienced what some would call an overexposure of self. This has both conditioned me, and taught me many things. A primary lesson that I have learned is that in all things, understanding sets one free.

    Fear is the basis for anxiety, resentment, and anger. It is the intangible threat that all seem to feel, but few can put flesh and blood upon. If we were to encapsulate all our fears and review them in a bunch, most of us would find that very few of them had actually happened or came to be a part of our reality, other than in our thoughts. I predict that this trend will probably continue, proving that most of the things we fret upon will never happen, or the outcome will be very different than what we expected.

    We spend an enormous amount of energy and time mulling over the things we think “might” or “could” happen. While this is consuming a large part of our consciousness, we often forget that all our power to change anything in our lives is in the “NOW,” meaning that we are virtually wasting resources dealing with non-reality, while our potential realities escape or elude us. It’s a lot like a working with a limited amount of computer ram while dealing with Internet viruses, spam, and auto-ads. There is less power to focus on the themes of progress.

    Meanwhile, all the experienced people hand us sayings, codes of ethics and morality, and visions of inherited “that’s just the way life is” preconceived endings of a life that we are in the process of creating. How can anyone know what our lives will come to? They cannot. They might guess well, but they cannot actually KNOW.

    So, I say, get over the fears of things which are mostly non-existent in the first place, and deal with living. Understanding that most of these things will never happen allows us a freedom. Life becomes more fun and exciting, less stressful, and we can let go of hurts, pains, anxieties, resentments, and angers. These factors are all just dragging anchors in our forward progress of of living. So if we focus on what we really want, and let go of thoughts of fear, we’re way closer to achieving our dreams than we were while hiding behind the blinding veil of semi-reality.


  3. Duane Says:

    I fear running out of things to say.

  4. Paul Says:

    Nice story David….I will ALWAYS fear public speaking…even if you make it sound so easy….

  5. Victor Says:


    I am an expert on fear. I used to have panic attacks and that buys into fear at its lowest level. In panic, there is no excuse for the anxiety except what you are thinking and that is that something horrible is about to happen. Not surprisingly for me, it is obvious the public speaking and heights as well as claustrophobia are all justifications for the emotional response of fear.

    At its root, fear is always the result of what you are thinking, not what you are doing. If people did not suffer from panic attacks as I have, then I would put some credence in the fact that what we are doing contributes to our fear. I can tell you that until I was able to realize that I would live through whatever dread engulfed me at any given moment, I was bound.

    In the case of “fear of public speaking” it is my opinion that it is more about fear than it is about public speaking. And since most of us are indeed bound with some kind of fear, it is not the public speaking fear that is rampant, it the fear. And that is my two cents worth. Thanks for providing the opportunity but please, please publish my email address so someone can talk to me.

  6. Nora Says:

    David, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    That said, I do make my best effort to connect, sometimes throwing my fear right out there. I have the advantage of usually knowing a bit about my audience or at least the company they work for. I gave a talk to 750 chemists at BigPharma Company in Indianapolis and was introduced by the president of the company. I thanked him for the introduction and quipped that failing chemistry at Purdue led me to my awesome job at at nonprofit agency. I find that if I can’t get a chuckle at the beginning it is hard to plow through a talk about hunger and homelessness without making people feel too guilty. It takes a certain finesse to talk about hunger while people are eating waffles.

  7. Gus Says:

    That’s good stuff, Dave. True.

  8. Holly Valdez Says:

    DG – more words of wisdom from a pro…surrending the fear and over powers me lets me make that baby step.

    Another GREAT post!

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