public speaking

Fear of Public Speaking: How I made it disappear

Have you ever felt a sudden lack of confidence because of public speaking… as if the equations and the symbols that made sense for you suddenly wouldn’t impress your public?

The fear of public speaking is actually common among engineers and high educated people… I had this fear a few years ago too.

When I had to talk about my project in front of a classroom, I felt as if everyone would tear me up and criticize the mistakes I made.

I thought it would be the last day of my life.

But every time, surprisingly, life continued, and it wasn’t as terrible as I thought.

The surprising discovery about public speaking I made in a Japanese course

The experience that really changed me was to follow the Japanese course of Professor Oikawa when I was a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

(Yes, Beijing is in China and I was following a Japanese course with Chinese students…but that’s another story)

Campus of Tsinghua University

Professor Oikawa was nothing like an ordinary teacher and I was marked for life because of his first course.

His method was simple:

He wrote first a topic to discuss on the blackboard and then he gave everyone 5 min to prepare.

The topic was generally something like “What do you like in Japan?” or “How do you travel?”…nothing overly complicated (except the fact you had to express yourself in Japanese).

But THEN, he asked everyone in the classroom without exception to go to the front desk and talk in front of everyone.

Professor Oikawa (笈川幸司) teaching his students
Professor Oikawa (笈川幸司) teaching his students

At the beginning, this approach was frightening… no one wanted to go.

Except there was no choice…

But what Professor Oikawa did great is that he was never criticizing. He was always saying: “This is my method: Everyone who makes an effort to say something deserves a reward”.

He was praising us for every word and we felt a true greatness in his way of seeing things and in ourselves.

He was always talking about interesting topics or should I say boring topics that he made interesting using some devious way of his.

For example, one day he came with the speech of the first Japanese minister. There was all kind of complex words that I never saw before inside that speech, but when he explained the true meaning behind the speech, this boring speech changed into a transformative experience that led me to understand how politicians build stories to convince the public and how powerful the words were.

Professor Oikawa was also the first professor I saw who was writing a newsletter for his students, giving them frequently interesting thoughts and stories to become better.

How Professor Oikawa really impacted my public speaking skills

After the end of Oikawa’s course, no one wanted to leave. Students were waiting at the exit of the classroom to ask questions and Professor Oikawa was always leaving surrounded by few students that wouldn’t let him go.

Professor Oikawa was one of my favorite teachers ever and I often think about him and what he taught me during that class.

Don’t be afraid to talk, whatever you say, it’s great. you have the power to influence people with you speech and your stories. You have the power to change the lives of a lot of people if you are willing to put forward your ideas in a compelling manner and you dare to tell them.

You have the power to influence people with you speech and your stories. You have the power to change the lives of a lot of people if you are willing to put forward your ideas in a compelling manner and you dare to tell them.

But what really suppress my fear to speak before everyone was the realization that

People were expecting and anticipating the great things I had to say. They were hungry to learn from me.

That changed my point of view and rather than focusing on myself and the mistakes I could make, I was focusing on the public and his expectation.

Once you learn to build this reframing in your head, your mind becomes bulletproof as if you didn’t exist anymore. Only the public and the information you have to give are important.

I had just built an unshakable confidence in myself for public speaking.

And you? What’s your story about public speaking?

–Let me know in the comments what you think, I read every comment

Cyprien Rusu

PS: I just realized that Professor Oikawa was now quite famous in Japan and China… He really deserves what he built for many years, that’s great to see. Here’s his website if you are interested to know:

2 thoughts on “Fear of Public Speaking: How I made it disappear

  1. The way I see it – what makes public speaking slighly less formidable – is that you are in an authority position as a speaker. 9 times out of 10, the audience is there to learn and to follow, rather than to judge and criticize. Hence, they are quite likely to ignore any mistake you make.

    Seeing yourself as the authority – a leader – gives you back your (imaginary) power. Which, in turn, of course will increase your confidence, and actually improve your presentation. So it’s like a win-win situation 🙂

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