My fear of public speaking is holding me back

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you. Her answer:


My fear of public speaking is holding me back

A promotion has come up at work that I want to apply for, but part of the job would involve being more ‘public’ and I am anxious about this. I have always avoided sticking my neck out on social media or even with friends in case I make  a fool of myself or I say something wrong. I know this is holding me back and would so love to be the sort of person who just thinks – so what? Any tips? 

I’m on a personal mission to see more women in public life – imperfect, human and fallible women, so my number-one tip is – apply for the job.

Research says that men will apply for a job if they meet 60 per cent of the qualifications, whereas women are reluctant unless they meet 100 per cent of them. You are concerned about one part of the role, but the majority of it appeals to you. You won’t be asked to strip naked and dance in a spotlight in your first interview. How about you apply, and make it your target just to get to the next stage of the selection process? It’s only when you actually have a job offer in front of you that you need to make a decision.

Let’s say, then, that you get the offer, and you are still concerned about the public aspect. My next favourite tip is ‘be curious’. Perhaps shift the ‘so what?’ question into a gentler ‘I wonder’. For instance, I wonder who uses social media in a way that you admire? How would it be if you follow one new person a day, or look for social media user groups within your company?

I follow an online thread for women journalists that says blocking people on social media is like sticking your fingers in your ears. One writer says, ‘Sometimes I say “hush” or “don’t be silly” before I block someone. I’m sure it makes them apoplectic, but that’s part of the fun.’

This brings me to my next tip – have fun! Author Herminia Ibarra says it’s professional to be more playful (see her work on authenticity in ‘More Inspiration’, right). She knows that ‘having to carefully curate a persona that’s out there for all to see can clash with our private sense of self’. This can be hard for those she calls ‘true-to-selfers’, but that concept itself needs questioning: which self are we true to – the past or the future?

The statistic about applying with only 60 per cent qualifications is a wake-up call for women that not everyone is playing the game the same way. It helps to know that others are giving it a shot even when they don’t meet the strict criteria. In this context, even early success at school can be a trap for women, because we might be less accustomed to perceived failure.

You are truly not alone in feeling the way you do, and any small step you take matters to the rest of us. Stay curious, have fun, but most of all, please press ‘send’ on that application!

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

More inspiration: Psychologies' first book, Real Confidence, is out now.

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