Fear.less, Tony Hsieh, and the Fear of Public Speaking

168 Hours (and a loooong interview with me) is featured in this month’s fear.less magazine (that link takes you to the downloadable copy or you can read it in your browser; I’m on pages 14-22). My interview is right before the section on Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos. While Hsieh was quite able to come up with an awesome way to sell shoes and handbags, he confesses in this first-person piece that he used to be deathly afraid of public speaking.

Guess what? So is, oh, 95% of humanity.

I’m not sure why this is. I suppose that facing a crowd always raises the risk that they would literally attack you, particularly before the era of civilization, so perhaps this is why this trait is wired into us. On the other hand, before the era of print or broadcast, public speaking was really the only way to convey anything to large groups of people. So one could also make an evolutionary case for why humanity should be comfortable with it. But we aren’t.

Hsieh writes that he got over it by practicing, giving lots of speeches, and also trying things that had an even higher potential for humiliation (karaoke). I think this is good advice. There are some people who are naturally better at things than others, and I will never be a charismatic speaker on the order of, say, Bill Clinton. But as I say in the fear.less interview, it’s good to know that “talent is not a fixed and immutable [thing].” If you want to get better at something, and throw yourself into practicing, you will. We get better by doing. Practicing is always a good use of our 168 hours.

How have you overcome a fear?


3 thoughts on “Fear.less, Tony Hsieh, and the Fear of Public Speaking

  1. After my dad died at 51, I decided I had to try new things. The first being my huge fear of roller coasters. I brought my husband and two supportive friends. As the gates opened, I walked straight the scariest ride in the park, (at the time Batman) and got on the short line. I counted the time the ride took and figured the two minutes was a miniscule part of my life, and who knew what fun I’d been missing out on all these years. You could hear my scream of terror all over 6 Flags, but I got off the line and did it again. I figured that if I conquered the worst one first, the rest would be easy. Though each had it’s level of terror/discomfort, I had fun!
    Another way to do it is when you fear admitting the fear to your child b/c you don’t want him to think what you are about to do is a big deal–like jumping off a diving board into 12 feet of water. I learned to swim as an adult. When my son was in swimming lessons, which I insisted upon, they had to go off the diving board. He was afraid, and when we went to a friend’s pool he wanted me to do it first. What could I say? My husband and friends laughed at the look of sheer terror that I thought I was hiding and I jumped in. I have conquered other fears, both big and small, under the pressure of “You try it, Mommy.”

    1. @Denise – Impressed! To me, public speaking is nothing compared to roller coasters… Or heights.

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