I’ve heard that 74% of American adults have “speech anxiety”, a fear of public speaking. Though I admit to still getting nervous when the stakes are particularly high, my job has required public speaking for decades, and I have largely overcome this fear. Yet the most terrifying experience of my life involved a brief presentation to an audience hand-picked to be the friendliest imaginable: my family and friends.
As I was wrapping up publication of my first book, my editor told me that I needed to host a book launch. What does that entail, I asked? A book launch is basically a party of at least 100 people to introduce your book. My only obligation (besides issuing invitations and footing the bill) was to stand up for 10 minutes and talk about my book. I’ve stood up in front of much larger groups many times on topics I was less well-versed on than what I’d labored over for three years, researching exhaustively and painstakingly revising many dozens of times. How hard could this be?
Terrifying, as it turned out. First, I felt guilty for taking advantage of (or so it felt) my friendships to make such a shameless plug for something so selfish. “Come to my party and eat some free hors d’ouevres, then see if I’ve guilted you into buying a copy of my book.” But what was terrifying was the thought of sharing such a deeply personal topic with over a hundred of my friends, nearly all of them co-workers. We’re conditioned to only share our views on religion in “safe” situations so as not to offend others. Plus I had spent three years putting my heart and soul into this book…what if they thought it was awful? Faith is so personal, what if they felt like I was preaching to them?
I had two months to agonize over all of these questions. It was a long, slow adrenaline rush that hit every time I thought about it over those months. Did I really have to do this? I knew the answer was no, but I also felt like I needed to see this three year journey all the way through. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there, but I hadn’t been alone at any point on this journey–I had to have faith I also wouldn’t be alone in the darkened meeting room at the Minneapolis Sheraton.
The night came; the turnout was awesome. My parents drove 600 miles to be there. I let everyone mingle for a few minutes, then I went to the front of the room. As I bared my soul in front of all of those people, it…was…ok! A few minutes later it was over. I walked around the roomful of people who meant a lot to me, finally relaxed and able to enjoy their company. And guess what? They supported me, overwhelmingly. In hindsight, it was ridiculous that I would have feared anything different. Many said kind things, but mostly they just celebrated my achievement. I was blessed. Blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. Blessed to have had this spiritual journey. Blessed with a lesson that vulnerability and facing my fears can lead to such a wonderful outcome.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” –Muhammed Ali