One important element of true professionalism is conquering the fear of making a mistake. In certain situations, like public speaking, that fear can freeze you like a deer in headlights. Wherever you are — live, online in a virtual conference, or in front of fellow team members –chances are you’re going to have to address an audience. I coach actors — for whom fear can literally tank your career. After observing how certain strategies can effectively help them overcome their fears, I realized these strategies can work for anyone.
Here are three key tips to help you conquer the fear of being in front of an audience, whoever they may be. Learn them, practice them, and use them whenever you’re called upon to speak in public:
1. Try to be bad
This works every time, though it seems counterintuitive. Like many of the best strategies in reverse psychology, it undoes the power of the very situation you fear most. The phrase came from the great actor Martin Landau, who would coach his fellow actors by saying, “Try to be bad.” What he meant was, when you fear making a mistake, or being wrong, you block the free and natural instincts you need to perform. This isn’t just about acting — it’s about being yourself. Grant yourself the freedom to mess up, and the big surprise is that you’re far less likely to do so.
One way to test this out: practice your speech in advance. Get a trusted group of friends to play the audience and keep it loose. Ask for their reactions as you’re talking — did you sound genuine? Are you interesting? Is your voice too monotone? Let yourself do everything wrong. You’ll likely make some great discoveries. By the time you’re ready for the Big Day, you’ll be well aware of what works and relaxed enough to do it.
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” – John Ford
2. Turn fear into gratitude
Success requires discipline. Sometimes, that can seem like a burden or a trap, and that feeling can erode your progress as you try to break free. Instead, take a moment and remind yourself that this is a choice. It’s your choice. If you choose to embrace discipline in your life, it will create positive habits which in turn create positive results. In terms of your need to get better at speaking in public — be it for one day or one job, or for the rest of your career — it’s the same situation. If you resent it, you won’t let yourself grow.
Instead, look at the freedom that positive results will bring you, and be grateful for the chance to achieve them. You’ll be free from the fear of not doing well, free from the fear of the unknown, and free from not understanding what it takes to do well. It’s a tremendous shift in how you define putting in the work — from confinement to freedom, from a trap to new wings — and it’s an approach you can use for countless situations throughout your life.
3. Make everything make you better
This is a key mantra I teach my Hollywood clients: Make everything make you better. We all get into bad situations — we face frustrating and daunting problems all the time. If you’re facing a challenge with that clammy feeling that it could all go south, try switching your mindset from negative to positive. Ask yourself: How can I use this bad situation to make myself better? What can it teach me? How can I leverage it to help myself grow? As soon as you ask these questions, you go into problem-solving mode — and chances are there are plenty of solutions in your experience to draw from.
Use the pressure as an opportunity to focus with intention. And if things don’t go 100% perfectly, look at that low point as a part of life as natural as spilling coffee and getting a stain on your shirt. It happens. But you prevailed. Imperfections are what make us human, after all — and being human is far more interesting that seeming like a robot. You can even use the example in your next talk!
I’ve found that these 3 strategies can turn around even the worst kinds of fear. They allow you to become philosophical, embrace growth instead of punishment, and have a little fun practicing. They open you up so you can be yourself — and even show a little vulnerability to your audience. That’s never a bad thing, believe me.