Public speaking F.E.A.R.

I am terrified of public speaking. This isn’t an exaggeration. I’m shy, introverted and have a slight speech impediment (it was much stronger as a child). A few years ago, I was asked to present some awards in an assembly. I was new to Victoria Shanghai Academy and overwhelmed by the size of its staff (it’s by far the biggest school that I have ever worked at). Children are not the problem. I can speak to hundreds of them, no problem. Adults, on the other hand, are terrifying. To this day, I have no idea what I said during that presentation. I just know that I was a nervous wreck. I was deeply upset and embarrassed at the time. Later that day, I shared the experience with a friend. This was his response:

“I also hate public speaking. That’s why I don’t do it.”

This is clearly the easy option, but it was never my intention. We won’t grow if we avoid challenges and risks. I didn’t want to be held back by fear. Speaking of fear, Zig Ziglar defines this word brilliantly:

“F.E.A.R. has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise’. The choice is yours.”

Zig Ziglar

My friend obviously opted for the former, whereas I want to rise.

I love Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindsets because it applies as much to adults as it does to children. I am capable of getting better at speaking, and anything else. With the right attitude, effort and risks, I can grow. I consciously put myself in my ‘stretch zone‘ and accept that mistakes and mishaps are all part of learning. I have also been inspired by Susan Cain’s book and her ‘year of speaking dangerously’. I have similarly been taking every opportunity to practise presenting and I believe that it is starting to pay off. I’m facing my fear and (slowly but surely) rising. There’s a long way to go, but I am proud of my progress.

For a while, I have been attending the brilliant Teach Meets that are held regularly by 21st Century Learning. These are fantastic opportunities to network, build relationships and share ideas. I set myself the goal of presenting at one of them before the end of the year. This was a huge aim and a daunting thought. Last night, I did it.

Presenting Flipped Learning at #21CLTeachMeet, May 2017 (photo by Andrew Ip)

As well as taking this photo, Andrew recorded a video of me. I was unsure about watching it back but I’m really glad that I did. It proved that we really are our worst critics! I looked/sounded a little nervous, but nowhere near as nervous as I felt. I thought that it would have shown a lot more. People often tell me that my nerves don’t show and I never believe them. To a certain extent, they have been right all along. For nervous speakers, I encourage you to watch yourself back. It’s actually very encouraging.

I am curious to learn about public speaking tips but, at this stage, I find most of them unhelpful. I consider them before speaking, and then they go straight out of the window when I’m actually presented with a microphone. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be in a better position to take these ideas on board. Right now, I think that I just need to build my confidence through more and more practise.

Are you a nervous speaker? How did you overcome your fears and what advice would you offer to others like me? What can we do to develop speaking confidence in our students? Please leave a comment below. To sum up, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Jack Canfield


    1. Hi Joy,

      Thank you for your supportive and encouraging comment. I very much enjoyed the TED Talk and have taken many things away from it. I can see the obvious connection between the talk and what I have written here. I am, too, trying to “fake it ’til I become it”. This talk offers practical advice that can help me on my way. Thanks for sharing!



  1. Adam, you are definitely not alone with your fear! Thanks for sharing so openly. I love the FEAR acronyms you shared- I’m going to. hang on to those. Congratulations on presenting at Teach Meet and reaching one of your goals! Your blogs are always so thoughtful and inspiring, so I’m sure your presentations were no different! I agree with Greg; I’m an over-preparer and it always helps me in the long run. I also try to crack some jokes (usually at my own expense), but getting people laughing is. always a good way to loosen them up with you.
    Keep up the amazing work!

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thank you for the comment. I really appreciate the kind words and advice. I agree that laughter could loosen everyone up. It’s good to feed off positive energy. It’s helpful to look for people who are smiling, nodding, etc. These people give me confidence.

      Thanks again,


  2. Congrats on facing your fear. Am sure your presentation was great. If you can be a great inspiration through your blog, I can only imagine what a great impact you had speaking.

    I use to say I hate speaking in front of others. And part of me still does. The being prepared definitely helps. And practice. Stand in front of a mirror and practice. I hate it, but it helps.

    1. Hi Tima,

      Thank you for the encouragement and kind words. I’d much rather inspire you through my blog than through a microphone! I think you’re right about practising in front of a mirror. That’s the next step for me. So many people say the same thing about hating it in the past and becoming more comfortable over time. Hopefully I’ll be saying the same thing in a few years.

      Thanks again!


  3. Congratulations on your achievement! As a parent of your former student, you inspire us all, children and adults alike. Thank you Mr. Hill!

    1. Hi Winnie,

      It’s so nice to hear from you! Thank you for the kind words. It really means the world to me. I hope that your family is well. Please pass on my greetings!



  4. My biggest public speaking tip may not sound like a speaking tip, but I’ve found that preparation is the greatest remedy for nerves. By knowing my content and having well-organized presentation materials, I can focus on interacting with the audience rather than fumbling through the content once it’s time to go. Also practicing my presentations out loud helps me find missing information and also helps with the flow of my presentations. While practicing I often discover that I need to reorder my information or add information that I was missing. Of course, live presentations never go exactly as planned, but by practicing the presentation I can easily jump back in after getting distracted or answering a question. I always find that anticipation nerves are worse than speaking nerves–once I get started, my mind is occupied and I’m not playing “worst case scenario” in my head anymore.

    Ultimately, the best remedy for speaking nerves is to speak more often and be prepared when you do–which fits into the Face Everything and Rise category.

    Congratulations on presenting at the Teach Meet yesterday. Looks like it’s time to start planning your next public speaking engagement!

    1. Hi Gregory,

      Thanks for the tips. I find these very useful. By unhelpful tips, I meant things like standing positions, imagine the audience naked, etc. (things to consider during the presentation). Your advice is about preparation, which is much more helpful. Thank you. It makes perfect sense.

      You’re right – I need to find my next speaking opportunity. Thanks for the encouragement.



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