You may be wondering what addiction has to do with fear of public speaking.
Well, if you’ve ever been addicted to anything, you’ll probably recognize these feelings:
All the while aware of his addiction, awakened by the flood of stress chemicals, urgently advising him that something to take the edge off would be a very good idea indeed. It was, some newer part of him thought, amazed, like having a Nazi tank buried in your backyard. Grown over with grass and dandelions, but then you noticed its engine was still idling.
Not today, he told the Nazis in their buried tank…
Not good, another part of him was saying, not good.
Just Like Public Speaking
Yes, that’s William Gibson (in his newest novel, Zero History), and yes, I love his eeriness-of-the-everyday quality. But I’m quoting this passage because it’s such a good description of how it feels to manage fear of public speaking.
There’s this primal, seductive, subterranean rumble (the engine idling beneath the grass). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give in, to be consumed by it? To sink beneath the surface and give up trying to speak in public?
Then there’s your awareness of what’s happening. Not today, you tell the fear. You’re not getting my mind today.
And finally there’s the judge, the Greek chorus, watching you, pronouncing on your fitness. Not good, it tells you. This is not good.
Actually, It’s Totally Fine
In fact, though, this isn’t bad at all — just unpleasant. Of course you’re afraid! You’re afraid because you care about doing well.
Think about it: What kind of fool gets up to speak in front of people (particularly about something important) and doesn’t feel the slightest bit of fear? (Not me, that’s for sure!) Is that really what you aspire to? Is anything less than fearlessness “not good”?
On the other hand, you do want to step away from this subterranean and tortured relationship with fear as quickly as possible, so you can stand up and do your (public speaking) job.
That’s where Rubber Duck comes in.
Put Down the Duckie
One of my favorite classic Sesame Street songs is the one where Ernie (of Bert and Ernie fame) goes to Hoots (the owl) for some advice on improving his saxophone technique. Here’s what Hoots tells him:
(And if you’ve never seen this classic performance, or haven’t seen it for a while, treat yourself to the full clip. After all, where else are you gonna see Itzhak Perlman, Celia Cruz, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Joe Williams and lots of other 1986 celebs and greats performing the same song?)
OK, here’s the thing: Ernie had to put down his duckie to play the saxophone. We have to put down our fear to let our own voices be fully heard.
And if that little bit of metaphysics doesn’t help, remember: You can always distract yourself by quietly singing the actual Duckie song just before you hit the stage.
It’s got a really catchy melody!