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Is perfectionism the root of your fear of public speaking?

Perfect presentations rarely exist. Things go wrong, and yet the presentation can still be effective. Let go of perfectionism to reduce fear of public speaking.
Perfect presentations rarely exist. Things go wrong, and yet the presentation can still be effective. Let go of perfectionism to reduce fear of public speaking.
Photo: Vladislav Gajic, Design: Carma Spence

Perfectionism can not only stop you from getting started in public speaking, it can also increase your fear or anxiety around this effective marketing tool. Whether you aim to speak at local gigs in Long Beach or grow your speaking career nationally or globally, you'll need to take a long hard look at any perfectionism you are holding on to.

The desire to be perfect, to not make an mistake, can increase the fear of public speaking. There is an often-quoted statistic that basically says people are, in general, more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. Some believe this is, in part, due to the belief that when you speak in front of a group of people you can be horribly humiliated when making a mistake.

This is can cripple your efforts to be an effective speaker. Think on these for a moment:

1. Your audience is, for the most part, rooting for you. If you make a mistake, they feel bad for you. They are not looking to cut you down. Just accept you made a mistake and move on with grace. Your audience will go with you.

2. Unless your mistake brings about the fall of civilization as we know it, a blooper on the stage isn’t the end of the world. So get over it and move on.

3. “The anxious energy that often goes into trying to make something absolutely perfect is totally counterproductive,” says Seymour Segnit, Founder and President of CTRN. The more you attempt to be perfect, the more you are likely to make a mistake.

Understand this: good public speakers make mistakes and then move on. Successful, professional speakers have had to deal with broken shoes, technical difficulties and even words not coming to mind. It happens. Effective speakers acknowledge the blunder, often with humor, and then move on. They don’t bring too much attention to the goof and they don’t let it derail them from their message.

“If you look at the very best speakers out there,” Segnit said, “those with the most powerful stage presence – say Barack Obama or Tony Robbins – they make mistakes, and they make them all the time – but it makes no difference to their momentum and their message.”

How can you reduce your fear so that you will make fewer mistakes? Leave perfectionism at the door. Take deep breaths to calm your body down. And, when you step up to give your presentation, act as if you are confident and soon you will be.

Another tip: Be passionate about your topic. There is something about talking about what really floats your boat that helps alleviate anxiety. It also makes for a more engaging presentation.

Would you like more information about public speaking? Visit for tips, advice and plenty of videos about all the "powers" you can employ in your speaking endeavors.

NOTE: Are you a Long Beach based speaker? Do you know of an upcoming speaking event? Contact me to have an interview with you published in this column.

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