Can you guess what the number one fear among human beings is? Spiders? Being locked in a coffin? Being locked in a coffin with spiders?
Nope, it’s nothing that nefarious. The most common phobia across the board for human beings is public speaking.
I mean, having a phobia of spiders, many of which are poisonous (besides the fact that they’ve got all those eyes and are just really, really creepy) makes sense. Having a fear of enclosed spaces makes sense because if you’re in an enclosed space things have probably gone pretty wrong for you.
Fear of heights? You could fall and die. Fear of snakes? Poisonous.These things make sense. But public speaking? I mean what’s the worse that could happen? You get laughed off the stage?
Exactly. You get laughed off the stage.
Some fates are worse than death by spider, or snake or tragic fall while locked in a coffin.
Humans are such social animals that our biggest fear has to do with being accepted by your peers and society as a whole. Belonging is so important to us that public speaking, being the centre of attention, having the floor to ourselves, and failing – having whatever you’re saying not accepted – is most people’s biggest fear.
As a presenter and actor, I used to think that this fear didn’t apply to me. I thought I was different. I’d always craved attention. I was always a ham. One photographer pretty much nailed me when he realised how much I’d goof around on set to get a laugh – he said I was basically everyone’s wacky uncle. I was 21 at the time. Not quite uncle age.
Maybe because I was an only child, maybe because I’m horribly self-centred (I hope it isn’t the latter but am open to the possibility), but I’ve always liked to be the centre of attention, even if I didn’t necessarily have the talent to warrant that attention.
And as I got older, and became a little more self aware, I realised how cringe-worthy it was to be the guy who constantly wanted attention but didn’t merit it. And now it’s the age of the social media star, the age of wanting attention for no other reason than being shamelessly self promoting. I began looking at said stars and finding it terribly self-absorbed and sad that all these people seemed to crave was the validation of strangers.
I didn’t want to be this person.
But that was in fact who I was. Maybe I wasn’t posting a million selfies and narrating my daily activities but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was on social media. I was playing to my following. I said I didn’t care if I got more followers but I wasn’t going to be upset if I did.
I was the person I didn’t want to be.
The problem with realising this when the primary way you make money is talking in front of people – all I do is host and act – is that you no longer believe you deserve the spotlight. And that bravery I had for speaking in public? Yeah, that evaporated like a puddle in the sun.
I didn’t realise it at first. Recording segments for programmes I was hosting, I’d finish my spiel and want to exit the frame. I loved it when my producers said, ok, walk off after you’re done. I couldn’t wait to get out of the lens. And when they told me to stand and wait for the director to call cut. I could feel that camera on me, feel it like a blanket covering every inch of me.
By the time I got to my next drama series, I had full blown stage fright. I’d sweat like I was sitting in a sauna fully clothed, I’d forget my lines, and forget acting, I was too busy acting like being on camera wasn’t killing me slowly. I could feel the camera. Feel the eyes of the viewers that would be seeing me. Feel them thinking, why is this no talent hack on my screen?
Needless to say, that’s not sustainable for someone who is going to keep earning money being on screens.
I was at the very bottom of my crisis when I told a director friend of mine about it. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting him to say but he immediately replied, “why are you in a rush to get behind the camera, you’re in front of it, not everyone can be, enjoy it while you can.”
Enjoy it while you can.
It sounds stupid. That such an obvious statement could affect me. But it did. It was the first step in overcoming my self-induced fear of public speaking. It’s a bit of advice to anyone who has to speak in public. Just have fun. Don’t worry about messing up, don’t worry about validation, just take a deep breath, remember to go slow and enjoy every moment while you can, because when you really think about it, public speaking is not nearly as scary as a being pushed off a cliff in a coffin full of spiders.
That would really suck.