Fear of Failure and Giving a TED Talk

What makes anyone want to stand up in front of an audience and talk about their own fear of failure? To me the whole idea of doing such a thing seemed daunting and unneccesary – until recently…

Working as a Performance Coach I assist professionals to aim high and develop the strategies and self-belief to achieve big goals and reach their potential. This work is largely one to one.

 It surprised me perhaps more than anyone else when I agreed to step up to be filmed giving a TED Talk in front of 1000+ people. Not being a public speaker as such, the prospect was, how can I put it?… More than daunting!… So why do it?

TEDx Paul Burden Fear of Failure Fear of Public Speaking

Each New Year I set time aside for a planning session, both for my business and for my own personal development. I’d decided it was important to help more people understand how to overcome the fear of failure and I would do some public talks to help achieve this.

When I asked myself who would I actually speak to, the idea of traipsing around the country speaking at small personal development groups really didn’t fire me up. I felt flat. “I’ll do it if I have to.”

Catching myself with these unresourceful feelings, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and ask the same question I teach my clients to ask: “So what would it have to be, to get me excited about it?” 

What would it have to be to get you really excited about it?

No sooner had I asked the question, out of nowhere the idea of giving a TED Talk popped into my mind and I almost choked on my cup of tea!…. I love TED Talks, but also considered them the domain of seasoned professional speakers – not something I came even close to! 

But the idea kept popping up and it kind of tickled me. I got curious and thought it might be fun to set a big goal to do a TED Talk and see what happens.

I used my goal setting processes to wire up my internal resources, hugely increasing my motivation and set a goal to do my first TED Talk within 5 years – that would give me time to prepare for what seemed like a massive goal. This lead to a series of unexpected connections and within just 5 months I was offered the chance to speak at TEDx Bristol. Bizarrely, the theme for the conference was failure!

What should I do? I felt I needed 5 years to learn the skills of a professional speaker. If I said yes I would have just 6 months to write, practice and polish a world class talk – nowhere near enough time for the preparation I believed I needed! But…I didn’t know whether the opportunity would come around again. What would you do?

Whilst my mind was thinking about whether to accept, my mouth was still talking and before I knew it, I was signed up… Well, you would – wouldn’t you?

Fear of Failure AND Fear of Public Speaking!

Eeeek!!… My delight and amusement at being signed up was cut short by an unexpected and rising fear of public speaking. This was accompanied by the nagging doubt “What will happen if I screw it up?” You might recognise this as a symptom of an underlying fear of failure.

The irony of my fears was not lost on me. Not only was this my first major public speaking gig, it was also titled ‘The Genius Beyond Failure’ illustrating how highly successful people handle failure… Personally, I was far from feeling beyond failure! 

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a similar experience, but the truth is, I was dreading it.

Can Fears Be Overcome?

I often help professionals resolve fears  that arise as we push the boundaries on our personal comfort zone. The fear of public speaking and the fear of failure are two of the most common I see. People sometimes laugh when I say I needed to book myself in for sessions with myself to sort this out, but in truth, that’s exactly what I did.

So after taking myself through the same processes I use to help clients overcome the fear of public speaking and the fear of failure,  writing the talk and scrambling around to find places I could practice my delivery, the big day arrived…

In front of a live audience of 1000+ people, I achieved my goal of giving a TED Talk – more than 4 years earlier than planned.

Was it a masterpiece showcasing my extraordinary expertise as a coach and speaker? Hmmm… I think not. However, it did give me the very experience I needed to fast track the final piece of the process to overcome my fears. It was quite a buzz!

TEDx Paul Burden Fear of Failure Fear of Public Speaking

With Hindsight Would I Do Anything Differently?

Yes of course. There were a few technical surprises that added to the challenge (lighting, sound systems, timing cues and other things a more experienced speaker would have breezed through) – tell you more about those and what I learnt about how to handle them later. Frankly if I’d learnt this before the event, the experience of giving the talk would have been a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable!

Most importantly, resolving the fear of public speaking and the fear of failure frees me up to explore opportunities in the future that previously would have been so far out of my comfort zone as to be unthinkable.

Who knows… Maybe I’ll set a goal to speak to an audience of 10,000!…  I’m sure that would give me further opportunity to push the boundaries on my comfort zone!

Please share the love – thanks!

To your success!

Coaching for Anxiety in Sport

Paul Burden – Performance Coach