FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING LOSES POLE POSITION
July 8, 2013 10 Comments
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), ex UK Prime Minister
As someone who has planned some of their retirement based on a late onset career as a public speaker, I have always welcomed the almost universal fear of public speaking.
This widespread dread of having to stand on a stage to share one’s thoughts and ideas with an audience of strangers did help to limit my competition for speaker slots, though I was also helped and kept busy in my speaking endeavours by the fact that many speakers still tend to believe that a great speech is made greater by the use of a large number of PowerPoint slides (see “How to give a great speech” posted 21 March, 2011 and “How to really give a great speech” posted 24 March, 2011).
However, most recently, the fear of public speaking, which has long held the #1 position in “human feardom” in the western world, appears to have been deposed, and relegated further down the list of top-10 fears, according to most current surveys that bother to worry about what bothers humanity.
It now seems that due to ageing populations in the western world, the number one fear these days has become the actual fear of ageing, closely now followed by the fear of death.
I recently had to visit the ophthalmologist due to small flashes happening in my left eye. After extensive testing he told me that it would go away and that there was nothing that he needed to do, or even could do, as it was just part of the ageing process. I told him that this was a bit worrying as at age 68 this was the first real sign that I had had that I was getting old. My wife, who was with me at the time, quickly quipped that it was “obvious that I hadn’t looked in a mirror recently”.
Andy Rooney said “It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
Since this warning shot across my bows, I have thought long and hard about the whole question of ageing, and realised that this “fear of ageing” is too broad a category, and that it really needs to be dissected into some of its more specific components as follows:
Fear of having an incurable disease with the family sitting on vulture-watch with their fingers on the life support switch.
Fear of forgetting where you live and thus having to wander the earth like David Carradine in his role as a warrior monk, but without the benefit of being a Kung Fu master.
Fear of moving more than 100 metres from a restroom, in case your brain registers that you only have 10 seconds before needing to desperately use one.
Fear of falling and thus actually testing the 20 year guarantee that comes with an artificial hip.
Fear of forgetting where you parked the car, and so having to search all the levels, or the vast acreage, of the shopping mall, having anyway completely forgotten what it was that you actually came to buy in the first place.
Fear of forgetting people’s names and then having to call everyone “Bud” in the USA, “Comrade” in Cuba and France, or “Cobber” in Australia and “mate” in New Zealand.
Fear of having to drive at high speed, thereby keeping you off all motorways and ensuring that you clog up all the small roads through villages in the French (or any other nation’s) countryside.
Fear of the elastic breaking on your “sansabelt” trousers and hence rendering you immobile and incapable of any forward motion.
Fear that one your children will get divorced, or find some other reason to have to come and live with you.
Fear that you will forget any/all of the pin numbers that you have accumulated over the decades making access to your bank, and simple electronic mail accounts totally impossible.
The fear of death, which has resolutely sat in the second slot for a long time, continues to do so, no doubt also helped by steadily ageing populations, though many attribute this to the fear of what is unknown rather to a fear of death itself. However, as so well put by Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics “Dying is easy, it’s living that scares me to death”.
As well as fear of ageing and the fear of death, the fear of failure has now moved ahead of the fear of public speaking into the third position on the feardom ladder, relegating the fear of public speaking into the fourth slot. Sadly this particular fear is instilled into children at an early age, when they are taught that to be right is more important than to be different, and that to succeed is more important than to have a good try, and this is even more pronounced in the business world. (see “Every company needs people who can regularly fail” posted 27 May, 2013).
“In the world today, failure is not an option. We need to change this attitude toward failure – and celebrate the idea that only by falling on our faces do we learn enough to succeed ”. Naveen Jain, business executive and entrepreneur.
I am pleased that the fear of public speaking, which is something that can be overcome with practice and coaching, has lost its position at the top of the fear table, as I have never really understood why it was ever accorded this ranking in the first place. I can also understand why ageing and death have moved up in the rankings though these are inevitable for all of us, so we may just get on with living life for as long as we have it.
I do however worry about the growth in the number of people who are scared to fail, as that will have an impact on people being prepared to try new things, which is one of the things that makes the whole journey of life so worthwhile in the first place.