Beat the Fear of Public Speaking

Few people deliberately set out to become a public speaker.

I certainly didn’t. I had zero interest. I was quite shy.

But it happened anyway, and gave me an entirely new career.

This could happen to you.

I had been happy as a journalist, on prestigious titles (Financial Times, The Guardian & Observer, The Sunday Times). But digital media made the future for journalism look risky.

People were being laid off.

So I wrote a book as a kind of insurance. When it came out, I was invited to give talks about it to people who seemed to enjoy them, with laughter and solemn nods (at the right moments).

These talks – and then workshops – led to me being invited to write another book, How To Change The World, that was published in 16 languages, and in turn led to me addressing crowds of up to 5,000 people, on four continents.

This horrifyingly large stage was in Mexico:

Took hours to walk across it.

As a journalist I was used to interviewing amazing people. Here are some of them:

Now I was being interviewed by journalists (including, that time in Mexico, by 20 journalists together).

I couldn’t previously have imagined that any of these opportunities would come my way.

Learning to speak publicly has been priceless.


I ALSO didn’t plan to write a book about public speaking. My agent suggested it.

I was in a bad way, coming out of a breakdown – with several weeks in psychiatric hospital. I thought I had little to offer, to be honest.

But we were sitting on the floor in a corner of Waterstones (UK bookshop) in Hampstead (North London). And I told him a story…

I told him that when I was in hospital, still wobbly with the medication and having only just come off what nobody officially calls “suicide watch”, I asked my consultant to let me out of the building to deliver a keynote speech, 200 miles away, at a big corporate AGM.

The psychiatrist was unsure, but I told her that I had already been paid, and that delivering the talk wasn’t as frightening as having to give back the money.

(I wasn’t earning much in psych ward, as you can imagine.)

Looking back to that day sitting on the floor in Waterstones with my agent, I can see now that this was quite an arresting story:

“Man leaves psych ward to deliver corporate keynote, returns same evening to hospital”

My agent, perhaps because he is originally from California, has a tendency to cheerfulness and buoyancy.

Write the book!, he enthused.

I’m not Californian. I worried that a book about public speaking would have to be some kind of guide to fakery and manipulation. There’s enough of that in the world already.

But I didn’t want to squish his encouragement entirely.

So I said, I’ll write it if I can call it this.

I wrote it down for him, with a wax crayon on a tiny piece of paper:

Modest Adequate Handwritten in Crayon.jpg

I thought that might put him off.

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