Book Review: Fearless Speaking

Good physicians wouldn’t diagnose you before running blood work or conducting a physical examination. If they did, you’d probably run out of their office, never to return.

But far too often, public speaking experts address the fear of public speaking in exactly the same manner. They offer tips and strategies intended to help you reduce your anxiety—without making any effort to understand the genesis of your fear.

As examples, I recently worked with a woman who developed her fear of public speaking when a boss scolded her for her delivery style; a man I recently worked with developed his anxiety due to a childhood stutter that led to years of painful teasing. The root causes for both people were different—and they each required a different approach.

That’s what I appreciated so much about Gary Genard’s Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life. Like a good physician, Genard understands that many different factors can lead to a chronic fear of speaking and that those multiple causes require different solutions. (I’ll publish an excerpt from his book on that topic on Wednesday.)

Genard offers dozens of practice exercises throughout his book. As I read them, I realized that while I’d personally find some helpful, I’d find others less so. And that’s a good thing. By giving readers several options, each reader will be able to find the exercises that are most relevant for them. Happily, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Every reader will use the book slightly differently.

One of Genard’s ideas, for example, is to use an acting technique called “The Actor’s Box.” In order to clear their minds before acting in a play, actors place their personal worries into an invisible box. They don’t try to ignore that they have anxieties—they just give themselves permission to store them in a box for the hour or so they’re on stage, allowing them to act without them—immediately after which they can retrieve the box (and their problems) again.

I had an interesting experience with “The Actor’s Box.” When I read about it in Genard’s book, I dismissed it as a little too “out there” for my taste. But a few nights later, when speaking to my wife about an unrelated topic, I suggested she try the technique. Turns out that idea stuck. And several of Genard’s techniques had a similar effect, continuing to work on me long after I had finished the book.

That approach is one of many. Genard offers a broad range of strategies from the traditional to the creative. He also ends each chapter with a real-life case study that brings his techniques to life.

I’ll give Gary the final word in this review, in which he beautifully sets the foundation for the pages that follow in his book:

“Almost universally, there is never as much danger or risk as you think there is concerning a speech or presentation. However, your anxiety leads you down a path with no exit, since you’re substituting your fears for more accurate measures to judge your success. So you create a false reality that’s actually much harsher than the actual speaking situation.”

Fearless Speaking is available in paperback here