On Public Speaking – A Golf Analogy

If you are like most people, you fear speaking in public more than death, spiders, falling, and heights.

Wait, death?

Yes, death!  Those statistics might sound funny, but they are real.  The only way to deal with your fear of speaking in public is to recognize it, acknowledge it, and allow it to work FOR you.

I like to use a golf analogy.

If you play golf, you undoubtedly have experienced “first-tee jitters”.

You may be a guest at a prestigious golf club.  You may be playing with a boss, or someone you know is a far better golfer than you. You are thinking about that moment on the first tee box when you have to hit your first drive and all eyes will be on you.  You fear shanking it, dribbling it off the tee, or worst of all, swinging and missing altogether.

You may stress over this moment for weeks before it happens, and when it does arrive, you will feel weak in the knees, dry in the mouth, and would rather be ANYwhere than on that tee at that moment.

I’ve been there.  When I was a very new golfer, I was invited to play Pebble Beach for the first time.

I was nervous nearly every minute of the days leading up to the game, which was on business with my husband.  I was playing with his colleagues, all men, at a course I had only seen on TV.  But to make matters worse, there was an annual PGA Tour players event teeing off immediately after our group, and the area behind the tee box was filled with current and former tour players.

I recognized a handful of those professional golfers from big-name tournaments and I could hear them talking and laughing behind me as I loosened up.   I wondered what I could have possibly done in this life or another to deserve this kind of an audience for my first tee shot at Pebble Beach.

I was sure I was going to blow it.

Dr. Bob Rotella is a well-known sports psychologist and he writes about this very situation in his book, “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.”  He makes the point that all golfers have first-tee jitters, to some extent, even the best of the best.  Hitting a golf ball is as much a mental feat as a physical one, perhaps even more so.  And pro golfers are certainly physically prepared and well-practiced for the first tee in a big tournament.  He says many of his former clients, champions of the sport have confessed to extreme nervousness at the first tee no matter how well they are playing.  But these pros also have learned to USE the adrenaline and even nervousness they feel when stepping up to the ball to better their execution.  They feed off the jitters to perform better.

You can do this too.

Like a golfer who needs to hit a big drive right down the middle, you need to channel your nervous energy into your posture, delivery and message.  You need to keep in mind that EVERY time a pro steps onto the first tee box, he is nervous.  Likewise, every time a pro gets behind a microphone, they feel a little bit like you do before your big speech.  Stand-up comedians, musicians, talk-show hosts, they all have a degree of nerves.  If they didn’t, it would mean they had stopped caring about their performance.  Remind yourself of this fact when you walk up to that podium or microphone yourself.  Those professionals are filled with many of the same doubts, fears, and worst-case scenarios that you are.  You too can learn how to focus not on the fears but on the energy behind them, and deliver your best message ever.

— Karie


(Note:  And, in case you are wondering, I did NOT dribble my first tee shot at Pebble Beach.  Was it my best drive ever?  No.  But it went just fine, and once it was over, the round was underway.  There were a lot more golf shots that day, more than I would like to admit.  But all rounds of golf come to an end eventually.  Prepare, breathe, and feed off that nervous energy and make every shot count!)


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