Turning Fear Into Fuel: Courage & Vulnerability

When I was 11 years old I had to stand up and present in front of 700+ school children in what we in the UK call “Assembly.” The room was made up of children from 11 to 18 years old along with teachers. It was intimidating to say the least and I was terrified. To make matters worse I had to present my own content, not read from a book. I had to share my own thoughts.

Four students were given the topic: “Your Hero.” We all had to take turns sharing about what we admired in our heroes. I cannot remember what I wrote down at all for the presentation apart from I spoke about tennis legend: Ivan Lendl. Ivan never won Wimbledon but he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. There is not much else I can say apart from that.

The speech was terrible. I read my pre-written text word for word. My head was buried into my chest to avoid looking out at the sea of faces. It was nerve wracking. Once I was done I had to remain on stage standing next to the third student sharing about their hero. It was then I looked up and surveyed the room. I was no longer the primary focus of attention. Then it hit me. The absurdity of it all. I was up here doing something I certainly didn’t want to do and looking out I could quickly see that no one was interested in listening to our speeches. Maybe it was built up nerves that just overwhelmed me, but the thought of how crazy this all was made me burst out laughing uncontrollably. It was terrible. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Piano recital exams
Even though there was only one person in the room. It was fear that I felt. Pure, unfiltered fear. Sweaty palms. Racing heart and lots of mistakes.

Number 1 Fear
You might relate to some of these fears. Fear of performing in public can be debilitating. Public speaking is the number 1 fear for most people.

Avoiding public speaking is not a solution. It hurts those who need to hear your message. It hurts your career. The only solution is be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s facing your fear. Whenever you face your fears you rob them of the irrational power they have over you.

Fear is simply misinformation disguised as reality. Step number one is to say yes I’m scared but I will be courageous and face my fear.

If you had to have 100 meetings with 1 or 2 people you probably would be okay, albeit very tired. If you had 1 meeting with 100-200 people you probably would be panicking. Fear enters. Why? Fundamentally what is the difference? How can you change this fear to actually become something that excites you and motivates you to be even more engaging with your audience?

The Journey
That 11 year old boy become a man who actually loves more people in the audience. The larger the audience the better. That 11 year old would not have believed you. It wasn’t possible. It isn’t possible. Are you believing the same lie I did for so long?

So what happened? Being comfortable in who I am and what I can do. I let go of the fear of being perceived a certain way and just be me, the real me, along with my mistakes, stammering and screw ups. How do you let go of that mask? You practice, you push yourself a little more each time. For me it was done a lot through performing guitar in public. I couldn’t avoid my mistakes. I had to embrace them.


So I implore you to put down that theatre mask, the podium you hide behind and make yourself vulnerable. People will love you for it. Face your audience and let them see you. I mean really see you.

For those of you on this road, you never really leave it, but it certainly has a point when you can embrace that energy and not let it paralyze you. Where are you on this journey?

Published by Matthew Halliday

Co-founder, EVP of Product Strategy at Incorta. Passion for design, UX, data, stories, and making beautiful things.

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