Courage Is Not Absence of Fear…

Mark Twain said it better: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

I thought about this recently as I addressed my fears about public speaking. All the times of waiting to be called up to a podium flashed through my mind. I recalled sweaty palms, trembling lips, shaky knees, blanking out. Thinking about these episodes made me wonder, why? What had happened in my life to cause such a fear? What caused me to quake and shake and forget my own name? Fear of course, but fear of what? I dug deeper. Fear of embarrassment. Ah, I think we’re getting warmer…fear of making a mistake. Fear of being laughed at. That was it.

When I was five years old we had to present a gymnastic routine in front of a full auditorium. My part was to do backward somersaults across a stage. I did two and then got stuck. Everyone laughed. My father didn’t, and he accused me of embarrassing the whole family. What? I was five!!! This photo is not of a somersault, but you get my drift…at least it’s gymnastics and not a photo of a duck.


The audience probably laughed because it was cute, but I lived with that public, and private, humiliation for far too many years. So, in realizing that, I knew my fears were silly. I had to address them and grow from them. I had to be courageous…I had to master this fear. And surely nothing I could say would be as embarrassing as being stuck in the middle of the stage with my ass in the air. I decided I’d join Toastmasters and really learn how to speak in public. That was a year ago. I have yet to go. I couldn’t quite see having to pay to learn to do something that would make me extremely uncomfortable, so I resisted. 

Then a month ago, I read an article on the topic of becoming a better public speaker, and it claimed the two keys were relaxation and preparation. Also, to know your audience and understand what they want to hear. The article also said to practice to make certain you know your topic and can stay within your time limit. Dress comfortably. Make eye contact. Move around a little. Use gestures. Let your tone show your enthusiasm and energy for your topic. Within the same week of reading that article and pinning it to my notice board, a position as program director for my local RWA chapter became available. Without a moment of hesitation I signed up. This was the perfect opportunity. I would practice on my friends. *grin*

Some of my LARA chapter mates intent on making things up.

Some of my LARA chapter mates intent on making things up.

This Sunday I will test the waters. My job will be to go to the podium and introduce the speaker for the day. Three minutes tops. Knowing I won’t be talking about me, but the person I’m introducing, helps a lot. I might be able to do this. Twelve meetings and hello: cue the applause, because I’m gonna be a public speaker, unless of course someone asks me to do backward somersaults. ; )

What about you? Would you rather have a root canal than speak in public? And if so, what do you think is the real reason for your fear?

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24 Responses to Courage Is Not Absence of Fear…

  1. Robena – you have such poise, I never had a clue you had an issue with public speaking. My hands shake but I like to think I can pull it off as long as I don’t have to hold papers in front of me. LOL

    Performing in public used to scare the you-know-what out of me, but it didn’t stop me from enrolling in drama in high school. I literally wanted to puke the first time I realized I had to get up in front of a full auditorium and remember lines and songs, etc. But I survived!

    Good for you for taking on the VP of Programs position. Thank you!

    FYI – you are a past president or LARA and no one ever had a clue you had an issue speaking in public.

    • robena grant says:

      You are too kind, Lynne. When I was President at LARA I had so much information to feed to the group I didn’t have the luxury of being nervous. It was just get up there and get the job done. ; ) Hey, maybe that’s the clue…I work best when everything is chaotic.

  2. My prior career as a police officer certainly helped me to feel more comfortable as a public speaker. As part of my duties, I did a lot of public speaking.

    The only time I get a little nervous before talking to a group is when I don’t feel like I’ve prepared enough.

  3. robena grant says:

    That’s an interesting insight, Kathy, and I do agree with the being well prepared thing, and I can see how being a police officer would not allow for nervous public speaking. ; )

  4. Maybe it is my former life as a kindergarten teacher that allows me to stand in front of adults without too much fear. Five year-olds are about as tough a crowd as they come. The attention span of a fly and the need for constant stimulation makes it so. Lol.

    You have made your mark at RWA and have a group of folks that adore you, so fear not. We have your back, now and always.

  5. robena grant says:

    I don’t think I knew that you were once a kindergarten teacher, Christine. My hat is off to you. : )
    Thanks for getting my back. I figured LARA was the best place to start.

  6. LARA is a nice friendly audience and you know your stuff! That always helps me relax, if it’s “my” subject…but I always get the butterflies ahead of time for sure.

  7. robena grant says:

    Thanks, Veronica. Yep, LARA members are the best. ; )

  8. Nan says:

    I was a past president of my RWA chapter (long past–like in the early 1980s) and the Chapter coordinator for my local Editorial Freelancers Chapter, so speaking in front of a group doesn’t intimidate me too much. However, those were both groups of people I knew and who already liked me…speaking to a group of strangers may well be a different story. I think public speaking is a natural fear creator in most people, even without a good reason.

    Good for you for taking on the new post, Roben! You’ll be fantastic at it!

    • robena grant says:

      Yeah, I don’t know how much it counts this talking in front of friends. But I figure it’s a start, and I’m sure that with practice it will become easier. ; )

  9. Dee J. says:

    You always seem so calm and collected! If you hadn’t told me your fear I’d have never guessed. Anyone who knows me knows I have no fear of speaking in public. LOL. Kind of the opposite. I do much better in front of a crowd than in the middle of one. But don’t get me started on my fear of snakes or spiders. Ack. Give me a room of people any day of the week before an arachnid!! Oh, I do have a fear of pop quizes too… but that’s a story for another day!

  10. Sam Beck says:

    Public speaking is a major fear for me too. I try to avoid it, but, when I absolutely can’t duck the duty, I at least have the satisfaction of knowing it’s as nerve wracking for my audience as is is for me! My voice quavers. I rush, blush and sweat my way through it.

    You, on the other hand, always look, (and sound), calm, cool and collected. I’m proud of you for facing your fear and conquering it!!!

    • Robena Grant says:

      Thanks for coming by, Sam. I know how busy you are these days. You always look calm. It’s hard for me to imagine you nervous about public speaking. : )

  11. J.L. Hammer says:

    Excellent topic. This is a very personal issue for me, and it’s comforting to know others would also rather step in front of a bus than to have to speak in public. It is something I have struggled with my entire life. Finally as an adult when nothing seemed to work, I sought some medical advice and found out I have an anxiety disorder. Regardless, I still have to speak in public, but I understand myself better and have advice on ways to deal with the issue.

    • Robena Grant says:

      That’s a really interesting thing, JL. I can see where if you had an anxiety disorder, especially social anxiety disorder, it would be difficult to get up and speak to a crowd. I’m not sure what I have, ha ha, but if we ever get the chance to meet and chat I’m going to pick your brain.

  12. I have also joined Toastmasters – and I *have* gone (actually a nice experience, come with me sometime), if not as often as I should.

    One thing that helps me, somewhat, is the idea that almost all the time, the audience WANTS you to succeed. Listeners/watchers want the information, and you want to present it well, so everyone is on the same team.

    But I too carry inner scars from being ridiculed or laughed at as a child (my “thing” was dancing) that still sting, oddly enough.

  13. robena grant says:

    That’s great, Bev. I’m going to addd TM back to my must do list. We live a long distance from each other, so we probably won’t get to go together. I know my group in the desert meet on Tuesday evenings. I’ll see how I do with speaking in front of friends first.
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s amazing how those hurts from our youth stick with us. I’m determined to kick mine to the curb. ; )

  14. Maria Powers says:

    I’m 10thing the comments of everyone else. I’d never have known that you were a nervous speaker. Sorry to read about your father. Life must have been a very uncomfortable place for him. I’ll share with you words of wisdom from my dad, “If you laugh at yourself, then people can only laugh with you. No one can ever laugh at you.”

    I took myself very seriously as a child and hated being laughed at or making a mistake and I cannot remember what had happened that day, but I do remember sobbing about it in the way that children do. I told my dad the story and about how the other kids had laughed at my mistake and then he shared those words with me. I didn’t change over night and probably not until I was in my early 20’s did I fully understand it, but my dad had given me a huge gift that day.

    Mistakes are the universe’s way of letting us remember that we’re human and so is everyone around us. Mistakes allow others to connect with us and as long as we react well to our mistake, others will too. Mistakes are fodder for our stories and make our characters more real.

    You are going to be great tomorrow. I’ll see you there.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Yep, you’re dad was right, and so are you. We all make mistakes. My father’s parents were tough old Scot, and they had no patience, so I think his attitude reflected his upbringing. Fortunately my mother was a great buffer (and still is) and managed to always put a positive spin on all things.

  15. Julie says:

    Uh, my problem is that often I can’t STOP talking. In public, or otherwise. Genetic deal, I come from a long line of chatty women.

    I love how you figured this all out. Well done!

  16. robena grant says:

    Ha ha. I understand because I can be really, really chatty, it’s only when I’m in the spotlight that I get weird. ; )

  17. londonmabel says:

    Awesome! Perfect way to start. Yay for Le Boldness!

    I don’t mind public speaking, but I do need to feel prepared.