Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why I Had To Face My Fear Of Public Speaking

Early in my career, I determined there was one fear that could hold me back from reaching my career goals: Fear of public speaking.

Ever since I made the decision to start a battle with fear, I have been presented with numerous opportunities to overcome an obstacle that stood between me and my career aspirations. While I am a big fan of StrengthFinders (an assessment that encourages a focus on individual strengths), I knew I would be defeated by my opponent "fear" who became a major weakness in my life and would not allow me to achieve the next level of career success. Beware though, there are pros and cons to facing your fears:
Sometimes facing a fear can put one in a better state once the threat (real or imagined) is conquered, OR in hindsight, can create a worse situation to make one wonder why it was ever important in the first place. 
In my case, fear of public speaking is a very common issue plaguing most people, but few really ever take the initiative to overcome.

Looking at your career aspirations, what is your fear that could be career limiting?  

I've met some people who are afraid of "success". Surprising as this may sound, the reason for not applying themselves and pushing forward is that they would lose something valuable in the process of gaining the level of success they desire. Whether this is right or wrong thinking is not the issue, rather the lesson is in understanding how to get past an idea or feeling that can adversely impact your career trajectory. 

The decision to face your fear is a conscious assessment of what you will gain, what you can potentially lose, and how to mitigate any loss. Most people only complete part of the exercise and wonder why they didn't obtain the desired result. Ultimately, this is a career risk assessment and will help you determine what could go wrong as a result of your decisions, giving you the ability to change course before it's too late. The value in identifying your risks in light of your fears, is to consider how to alleviate the concerns you have AND still achieve a level of success on your terms.

Although this idea seems simple on the surface, we're all different with many factors and variables specific to our lives. I believe the common denominator is we all want to fulfill our passions through work, so to not explore the possibilities would be a disservice to yourself and others. 

Here's a suggestion on how to get started, then check out the plan I used for overcoming my fear.

- Identify what part(s) conjures feelings of anxiety and may hold you hostage 

- Understand what you will need to prevail over any apprehension

- Explore whether it is worth the investment (time, money, people)

- If not, how can you adapt your plan or path to create "success" without the fear factor?

It's best to always use a career coach, mentor, or confidant to discuss your thoughts. I utilized my colleagues in a support role to help me manage my fear of public speaking and eliminated the burden I felt about a stagnating career.

 My Fearless Plan

When I committed to developing my public speaking skills a few years ago, I made it a priority by identifying ways to improve through opportunities to speak (you have to exercise the muscle to gain the tangible benefits) Every time I had to talk in front of a group, I could feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach so I joined a Toastmasters group to get honest and safe feedback about my presentation skills. This helped me to gradually gain a level of confidence and the courage to keep going. I built a progressive plan that started small by giving updates in team meetings,  then grew to presenting in front of larger audiences in various formats. It was important that I challenged myself so I joined a volunteer organization where delivering presentations were part of my responsibilities. Since Management support is intergral to gaining visibility in the organization, I talked with my manager about opportunities to present to executives and other groups. From the beginning, I knew I needed an objective way to gauge my progress so I solicited feedback from a circle of colleagues who witnessed my talks, then accelerated my development using expert programs like Speakeasy to become more effective in my delivery. 

As a result of a consistent and progressive plan, I started to reap the benefits of my work through tangible results in my performance and the opportunities that continued to come. I believe my commitment and investment gave me the ability to move forward both professionally and personally.

What is the next fear I plan to overcome? You will have to stay tuned for this one...

What fear did you overcome to achieve your career success? Please share so you can liberate others to pursue their goals.

Stacey Rivers is an author, mom, wife and IT Talent Professional. Find her current book "50 Essential Tips To Getting & Keeping The Right Job" on Amazon.