Some people would rather die than give a speech in public. I find this fact difficult to understand, yet numerous surveys attest to it.
Since I speak for a living, I thought I had grown immune to the fear. Yesterday, however, it was palpable, as I presented a two-minute summary of my book to a group of distinguished authors and book fair organizers from across the country.
The person to my left had been a senior editor at Newsweek. The author behind me was the Editor-in-Chief at Business Week. Three people in my row had New York Times bestsellers!
I felt like one of the people the Bible describes when it tells of the Israelites first entering the Promised Land: “Giants roamed the land…and we must have been like grasshoppers in their eyes.”
What Are They Saying About Me?
When the emcee called my name, time stopped. I went up to the microphone, looked out and started talking. I looked for a friendly face. When I found one on the upper left hand corner, I relaxed. What felt like 20 minutes ended up lasting a minute and a half.
When I sat down, I heard the customary applause, and then a murmur. I imagined they must have been whispering to each other, “Who invited this guy?”
The program continued for another hour. Afterward, all the authors and book-fair directors converged into a social hall for appetizers, drinks and discussions. The book-fair directors sought out the authors who interested them. It felt like a big unorganized speed dating exercise.
I expected to sulk in a corner and maybe have one or two conversations. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Though I was not deluged with attention as some of the authors were, many people commented on my presentation and how interested they were in hearing about the book. A fellow author even asked for speaking tips.
The entire experience taught me a few lessons.
1. The anticipation of an event generates much more fear than the event itself: When I was speaking, I focused on what I was saying. Before speaking, I focused on how nervous I was. We may not be able to avoid anticipatory fear, but if we recognize and call it out, we can see that it is more about ourselves than what we are about to do.
2. It’s okay to be nervous: It is a sign we are taking the event seriously. Why would we get anxious over something that was not important? When we care, when we have worked hard to get somewhere, we take it seriously. The key is not to let it push us offtrack.
3. Envy is deadly: There is a difference between ambition and envy. Ambition can drive us to innovate and move beyond our comfort zone. Ambition can lead us to work hard and achieve.
Envy, however, can destroy us. C.S. Lewis pointed this truth out with characteristic eloquence. Envy, he said, is “the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad.”
“It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than others – when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that it would take all the fun out of it – then you are going wrong.”
Yesterday I learned, once again, God does not compare our lives with other peoples’. God calls us to find and live by the unique divine spark within ourselves.