"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.Marie Curie

Handling fear is a top topic for us speakers as well as for our day-to-day living.   The following solutions on how to handle fear come from years of experience as well as from a New York Times contributor.

What is fear? Where does it come from? Fear is an activated survival instinct. This instinct largely falls into four categories:

  •         The need to control
  •         The need to be right
  •         The need to belong, to fit in, to be a part of something
  •         Plain old habit

Here is what I learned as a contender in the World Championships of Public: Even the most skilled, seasoned, sexiest speaker has fears.  Every contestant in the back room was sweaty and agitated. This common sense of peril became a kind camaraderie.  Turns out, the only competitor is the one within us. The competition is with your last best speech, not someone else’s. As we advanced one by one toward our stage times, we “competitors” became allies as we faced our fears together.  Here are the first in my rolodex of some simple, easy-to-use ways to manage fear.

Convert Fear Into Anticipation

When fear is activated, what do we feel? A pounding heart visible through a parka, sweaty palms, tremors, cotton mouth. A mind racing a mile a minute to provide enough power to light up a small New England town.

The solution lies in recalibrating pent-up fear into anticipation. By using creative visualization from our last session, call to mind the tension you feel when your beloved is about to open their birthday present from you. You found the perfect size, model, color, and description. This person has longed for the gift you have waited so long to give. OMG! The loved one is about to open your package! What happens? Heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and nervousness. Try connecting the feelings and the physical symptoms around the birthday scene to those you feel in the public speaking arena or any challenging moment.  They are the same.

Before going on stage, see yourself as a gorgeous gift, complete with bright wrapping and ribbons, about to be opened. Fear is reframed into the joy of giving and opening. You can hardly wait for us to open your package! You are the gift to us, the audience! Open yourself up to the present with your present.

Thus the energy moves forward and outward- and so do you.


A valuable approach to overcome fear is self-soothing.  Place a hand on your body, the lapel of your suit, the cuff of your sleeve, your heart.  With a hand to your body, especially around the heart area, you create a chance to soothe yourself without public recognition, as well as a skillfully situated reminder from where you wish to speak. From a wise heart - not a talking head.  From your authentic self, which is magnetic.

As an audience on the outside looking in, adjusting my collar or sleeve may look like an adjustment to my clothing. But in reality— ha-ha!—here is a vital momentary opportunity, a pause in time, to stroke my shoulder, my heart, or my hand and internally say, “You can do this! You are ready!” Applying one’s own hand to one’s own body is one of the most calming, effective techniques and easy to use.

Some say FEAR is an anagram for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” I say FEAR equals “Face Everything And Receive.” Running toward our fears instead of away from them is often the quickest way to see them evaporate as we can see from the following suggestion.

“The Mel Robbins 5-Second Rule”

A tried-and-true method to overcome fear comes from New York Times Best Seller, Mel Robbins and her The Five Second Rule.[1]

Here is what Ms. Robbins has to say:

The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.(Emphasis added).

The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.

When you feel hesitant before doing something you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move toward action.

There is a window that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it. It’s a 5-second window. It exists for everyone.

If you do not act on your instinct to change, you will stay stagnant. You will not change.

But if you do one simple thing, you can prevent your mind from working against you. You can start the momentum before the barrage of thoughts and excuses hit you at full force.

Start counting backwards to yourself: 5-4-3-2-1.

The counting will focus you on the goal or commitment and distract you from the worries, thoughts, and excuses in your mind.

As soon as you reach “1” – push yourself to move.

This is how you push yourself to do the hard stuff – the work you fear or are avoiding.

That’s it. 5 seconds is all it takes.

I find the countdown of 5 to 1 overcomes the tendency to keep my hands at my sides, and refrain from saying anything.  Imagine. Only 5 seconds to propel you forward into your big dreams and to never give up.

Fear is just an energy.  Success comes from how you perceive fear energy and discover means like these to handle that corrosive thread. More to come with my next article. Remember - there is no such thing as failure. Only experience. Experience is our best teacher.

Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” Stay tuned for more insights and suggestions for making friends with fear.  I look forward to meeting you again next month with more strategies to persist in your best presentations.

[1] More information may be found in Confidently Speaking, The Speaker’s Guide To Standing Ovations Appendices under People and Resources. Mel Robbins https://www.melrobbins.com/