I was talking to my kids this weekend about Halloween costumes, and they asked me what scared me the most. I paused for a second, and then realized that my answers were not what they were looking for. They were business-related and had nothing to do with the boogey-man. What was my scariest moment? It could have been my first presentation to Wall Street financial analysts. It could have been presenting at a conference to 1000 people. It could have been my first day as CEO or the day I realized we were running out of cash. It might have been realizing that I was out of work and that I didn’t have income to provide for my family.
Each of these episodes could have been paralyzing and caused me to fail. However, the fear associated with each episode is what caused me to succeed. Don’t get me wrong. I have experienced paralyzing fear many times. There was the time that I pulled an all-nighter to prepare for an economics presentation in graduate school. My presentation was flawless and had outstanding facts and logic. However, what I failed to do, was prepare my dialog. I stood in front of my peers and put up slide after slide of facts and had absolutely nothing to say about them other than to read the text. It was the most painful 30-minute presentation of my life. Unfortunately, my classmates were more uncomfortable than me, because it was a tremendously boring presentation. Lesson: Always, always, always prepare your speakers notes.
The point is that you can’t let your fear control the moment. You need to harness the fear and channel it into positive energy. People have told me that I am a reasonably good presenter. I often hear, “how are you so comfortable presenting in front of an audience?” The truth is that I feel like I am going to throw-up every time I take the stage. Show me a speaker who isn’t scared, and I will show you a boring presenter. The fear and adrenaline rush of the moment is what makes the presentation real and interesting. I’ve read interviews of both Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and both of them commented that they were physically ill before every show and every performance.
It is human nature to be afraid. Everyone is afraid from time to time. Fear is what drives us to create stronger companies, become more efficient employees, faster athletes, and better students. Andy Grove of Intel built a business with the mantra, “Only the Paranoid Survive!” Fear is one of the emotions that make us human. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Use it to become a better manager and set a higher bar for your employees. Use it to drive your company to create a stronger value-proposition and more daunting competitive advantages. Never, ever, relax and get complacent. Leave that for your competitors…
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