Someone once asked me how I managed to keep calm and be confident while presenting speeches and papers. He said that if he had to do this, he would be sweating profusely, would not sleep the night before and would on the actual day have a stomach full of butterflies. The thought of going up the stage and having to face all those people at the same time would really scare him.
I told him, believe or not, I still do feel nervous. In fact I was just like him, but years of experience have taught me not to show it and to have the ability to overcome it. I just do not show my anxiety when I have to face hundreds and thousands of people.
He asked me for my advice.
I told him that being anxious to face the public is quite common. Some people will panic. Over the years, I have instructed a number of officers to go up on stage and do presentations to the public. A number of them do very well. But a number seem to panic. It does not matter what rank or position he holds or what qualifications he has, if he is not used to facing the public, he will panic.
I told him not to worry as the fear of something new and the feeling of panic, and of not being able to return to somewhere familiar or to move away from the situation – causes this type of anxiety which is a natural human response.
For instance we worry about many things which we may have to face such as travelling to a new place, a new school or even to meet one’s future parents-inlaw. These are all part of phobias or fears which include the fear of being enclosed (claustrophobia); the fear of flying and even fear of going up escalators. I had an elderly uncle who would rather go up staircases instead of using escalators no matter how high he had to climb.
Some of these anxieties about facing the public, whether real or imagined are related to the fear of being humiliated; being sensitive to criticism; and the fear of being scrutinised in public. These are a few of the fears that make people afraid of speaking in public, in class or of even doing simple presentations.
I told him that it is not difficult to overcome his fear and anxiety. All he needs is persistence, a bit of discipline, some effort and most importantly, courage.
Why do I use the word courage? The most important thing to remember is that courage or being courageous is not the absence of fear. Courage is the feeling of discomfort that you are willing to experience so that you can reach your goal. Being courageous means that you are willing to go through that discomfort because you feel that achieving your goal is more important – is worth it.
Courage is needed because being anxious or being fearful means that you often want to run away from the fear facing you. In being anxious, your mind convinces you of the many seemingly valid reasons for you to avoid that fear. The choice ultimately is yours. You can either run or you can fight. To fight needs you to be courageous.
Over the years, I have discovered that I have not lost my fear of facing the public. What I have discovered instead is how to overcome that fear or that anxiety.
To overcome your fears, you have to move slowly towards areas that you are not comfortable with. For instance, I started taking courses in public speaking. I even applied to be a newscaster on the radio for national news. I was accepted and received free training on how to control my voice and my speech, as well as this, I was paid a tidy sum for being a part time newscaster. Nowadays there are clubs that you can join such as the Toastmasters Club. You can also ask your superiors to give you the chance to do presentations to small groups.
Every time you challenge your anxiety, you are demonstrating real courage. It is not that difficult to overcome your fear of anything. To me, the most important rule is to take small steps. Steps which are not so big that you feel overwhelmed and consumed by your fear but steps which will enable you to slowly make progress.
I still have a fear of speaking in public. But I use those fears to see how I can give better speeches and better presentations. Nowadays when I go up the stage, it is no longer the fear of facing the public that I feel, but I wonder whether or not I have delivered the right message, the right advice, the right information so that our country and the world can be a better place. All you need is a bit of courage…
Haji Rozan currently holds the post of Permanent Secretary (Media and Cabinet) at the Prime Minister’s Office. His busy schedule does not deter his writing where he has the longest running column at The Brunei Times and has written more than 250 articles. He has also published three books. He has also presented a number of papers at international and local conferences and seminars.