Oct 12

Public Speaking Fear – Nancy Tierney

I just want to touch upon some things that Nancy Tierney from Unconditional Confidence posted in my comments section relating to a previous post I made about the fear of public speaking. Re-read that here.

In case you haven’t seen it I’m going to comment on some of things that she’s written about it here. She said:

“When an actor is focused on creating a character they aren’t able to really be self-conscious. They are focused on their “work” rather than on what people may or may not be thinking of them”.

I think that Nancy hit the nail on the head here.

Actors are generally focused on creating a character, not only that but they have other “safety nets” such as someone else has written the script, they’re with other actors and, if they’re on stage they know that the audience isn’t going to be focused solely on them.

Therefore, no public speaking fear… in its broadest sense.

However, this was something that I still couldn’t understand until recently. Last year I took one of my actor friends along to my local Toastmasters club, as she had expressed an interest in public speaking.

After attending as a guest with me a couple of times she concluded that it wasn’t really for her. Eh? She seemed to be having so much fun.

I was confused at the time, because I figured acting and public speaking is all the same amount of confidence and so I was confused by her fear.

Until I realised that what separated me from my actor friend was that I had had experience performing stand-up comedy. An artform where, predominantly, you get up on stage and be yourself as much as possible.

In a way stand-up is as much about facing your fear (of public speaking, failure, etc) as it is getting those all important laughs.

Whereas I think that decent acting is about becoming someone else. Or at least faking that you are really well.

I once read in Toastmasters’ magazine that:

“stand-up comedy is extreme sports for public speakers.”

In the past, I personally found that facing the prospect of having to be funny to a bunch of rowdy, drunken people on a Friday night can greatly help you raise the bar of fear for yourself.

The first time I did stand-up I did it for about two years; two years of dealing with my fear of stand-up (or public speaking).

Now, I’m not advocating that every public speaker has to perform stand-up comedy in order to raise the bar for their level of fear. Far from it.

What I’m saying is that by being yourself and confidently delivering your speech you are doing something that many trained actors do not do. It’s something to be proud of.

So, in essence, I was used to getting up and learning how to be myself in front of a crowd. And I think that’s equally important with public speaking as it is with stand-up comedy.

Nancy goes on to say:

“As I say in most of my speeches, people aren’t afraid of public speaking; they’re afraid of public humiliation. Unfortunately, a lot of people equate the two”.

I agree. But I also think that the two are intrinsically linked. I’ve had people say to me that they worry that they won’t remember the right thing to say which, to many, equals public humiliation.

She also says:

“You can’t give a rip about what your audience thinks of you. Instead, give a rip about what you are offering them, your message, your purpose in being there”.

This is also true. I have had to remind a couple of people, whom I’ve consulted with in the past, that they do in fact know their content. They’ve been doing the job “X” number of years and are more than familiar with the topic.

There’s a quote, and I’m paraphrasing, which goes:

“you can either think in dimes or you can think in dollars.
so why not think in dollars… it’s the same amount of thinking?”

When you do public speaking you have just got to focus on and practice how you are going to get your information and passion across.

Passion I think is equally important, because I think it’s easier to listen to a passionate public speaker rather than the opposite.

She concludes her comment about public speaking fear by saying:

“it doesn’t make any sense to worry about what others may think because there’s really nothing you can do to change that. But you can change what you are thinking about, what you are focused on”.

Again, she’s absolutely right. You have to learn to deal with the things that are within your control: where your focus is, your speech preparation, the passion for your subject and so on.

Thank you so much for that wonderful contribution Nancy on public speaking. Your comments on the fear aspect of it were really insightful.

If you want to learn more about what Nancy does go over to her Unconditional Confidence blog and check out what she says and join her mailing list.


  1. Nancy Tierney

    Thank you!

    I so appreciate your insights as well.

    And even though you are not recommending that people try stand up comedy, it might make public speaking feel like a piece of cake in comparison. I, personally, would never try it.

    But I sometimes tell people that if they are scared about speaking in public, they should try singing in public. And I don’t mean while drunk at a karaoke bar. Once they survive singing in public, speaking in public starts to feel much easier all of a sudden.

    Thanks again, and keep on writing!

  2. Eric

    Hey Jason, that a very well written post! Learnt a great deal about the whole “overcoming fear”. Love the part by Nancy that it is not public speaking that people is afraid of, it is public humilation. Spot on!

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