Few can deny that shameless self-promotion and over-sharing are proliferating as never before. Yet, despite this seemingly dramatic shift away from restraint and modesty, public speaking is one form of expression that remains at the top of many most-feared lists, right up there with spiders and heights.
The idea of holding forth in front of an audience, large or small, used to push me into paralysis faster than you could say “ladies and gentlemen”. Like most people, though, I wasn’t aware that I had this fear until I was put to the test. The trigger event happened in my early twenties during a pre-market sales meeting in New York.
I was building my sales career at a fast-growing apparel company at the time and had already spent a couple of years apprenticing during busy market weeks and even presenting the company’s massive product line to my own accounts.
My confidence in these situations didn’t betray any hint of performance anxiety, so I was as surprised as anyone by my deer-in-the-headlights reaction to the announcement of “role play” exercises at the sales meeting. What? How could a performance for “Marge,” the imaginary retail buyer, in front of my peers, possibly be helpful…and why was the prospect so terrifying? After all, I was already adept at building rapport and boosting orders with actual buyers! As my irrational fear took over, I quickly mastered a new art: taking well-timed bathroom breaks just before Marge came on the scene to put everyone through their paces. I was so averse to enacting sales scenarios in front of my peers that I managed to artfully avoid it for years.
As role playing (finally!) fell out of vogue under the company’s new leadership, my relief was replaced by introspection. Surely anything that evoked that much unease in me also freaked out many others. It only stood to reason, then, that getting a grip on it would accelerate my career trajectory. From that day forward, I began signing up for as many stand-and-deliver opportunities as I could get my hands on. I also deliberately sought out other activities that my peers feared the most. Fast forward to the present, and public speaking, training (complete with role playing!), writing, negotiating and other widely-dreaded endeavors are cornerstones of my consulting and coaching practice.
GIRL TO GREAT MANDATES
Set yourself apart from the cowering crowd by following my “fear + loathing” formula. The following are a few examples of activities that many dread or avoid altogether. The fearless pursuit of any of them will give you a major edge but you'll instantly double your differentiation by pursuing, conquering and/or accelerating one activity from each category. You can also come up with a few of your own that directly relate to fears unique to your field.
- Public speaking
- Cold calling
Lean into what others loathe. You’ll love the results.
Isn’t that great?
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I launched the GirlToGreat series at the urging of the many women I've mentored and informally encouraged over the years. In this series, I share tools and tactics born from my experience, not theory, that will help you get out of your own way, make better use of where you are right now, and ditch the insecurity that is at the root of cringe-worthy compromises and playing small. Learn more about GirlToGreat
I am the founder of retail strategy and training agency, Spieckerman Retail. I blog on retail at spieckermanretail.com, and am a professional speaker, author and retail positioning trainer. I conduct retail positioning workshops around the world that arm companies with powerful tools for pursuing high-volume programs and strategic partnerships.
To learn more about my women's leadership support and retail-focused presentations, training and advisement, ping me at carol@spieckermanretail.