Fear hates focus. One of fear’s goals is to distract you. To spin you out in a panic about something you can’t control, something that isn’t true, something that isn’t real. Put simply, fear wants you to lose your focus.
I thought about this last week when I saw a picture of me that felt fake.
The Speaker’s Group at Dave Ramsey posted a photo of me on our official Facebook page. It was taken while I was speaking at NorthRidge, a church in Michigan. When I saw the photo, I thought there had been an error.
I remember being there.
I remember speaking four times at four different services.
I remember flying to Detroit for the first time ever.
But the photo of that day didn’t look anything like I remembered.
Here it is:
I don’t remember those screens. I don’t remember there being graphics on them. I don’t remember the light being that bright on me or the room feeling that dark or the crowd feeling that full. And I don’t remember that, because that’s not what I focused on.
I get nervous when I speak publicly. I get nervous before I go on stage, despite experiencing a great sense of joy and purpose when I’m out there. To combat that fear, I focus. I don’t think about talking to 10,000 people. I don’t think about the size of the room. I don’t think about the screens that will be magnifying my wild arm gestures so that even people in the balcony can experience my sweaty hands of fury.
I focus on putting my water bottle down on the table on the stage.
That’s it. That’s all I have to do to break the ice of the moment. My first job as a speaker is to simply drop off my water bottle. And, if there’s no table, my first job is to walk to the edge of the stage and smile.
That’s really simple, I know, but fear likes us to complicate and dramatize things. To stand backstage, behind a curtain and take in how large the crowd feels. To count the number of backdrops an auditorium has. To amp the moment and lose your focus.
I think my desire to focus on the first thing is just an extreme example of the advice they give people who are afraid of heights. What do they tell them? “Don’t look down.” Don’t give your fear of heights fuel by visually measuring the distance to the ground. Don’t feed your panic. Don’t look down.
And I don’t. But, in some ways, I also don’t look around. That photo seemed so strange to me because I had never really seen it. I was focused on putting my water bottle on the table. As soon as I did that, I’d experienced a quick win.
Next task? Focus on walking to the edge of the stage and smiling. Another quick win.
At this point, I’m on a roll. Focus on saying the very first sentence of my speech. Quick win. Focus on finding someone smiling to talk to who looks like they want to laugh. Quick win. And I’m off.
I’m four wins in. Fear is retreating. Focus is marching forward. A week later, I will see a photo of this moment that looks strange to me. And it should.
I didn’t see it that day.
I saw my water bottle. I saw the edge of the stage. I saw my first sentence. I saw the crowd.
I focused. And fear hates that.
Are you afraid of public speaking?