Halloween Meets the Fear of Public Speaking

By Laura Bergells on

Imagine getting this event invitation:

“Come to our Halloween party. Dress as your worst fear.”

I received just such an event invitation a number of years ago. Delighted, I set my mind to the task of what I would wear.

“Worst fear. Let’s see. I’ll bet people will come as ghosts, werewolves, monsters, and such. But I’m not really scared of those things… what am I really afraid of?”

fear of public speaking
After a number of days of deep thought, I had my answer.

I went as Madame Butterfly.

However, when I got to the party, a gal dressed as a spider and a guy with a lightning bolt driven through his brain wanted to know if I was afraid of tall Japanese ladies.

I explained that the operatic heroine Madame Butterfly represented my fear of being abandoned and treated as a social outcast.

Perhaps this was too deep for my newly-found party compatriots, because they exchanged puzzled looks and walked away. But a fellow in a three-piece suit seemed to understand.

“Fear of success?” I questioned, looking at his get-up.

“Hey, I hadn’t thought of that, but maybe,” he admitted. “I was thinking about how much I fear the idea of becoming a corporate slave, locked in an office, and looking + acting + talking like an android for the rest of my life.”

It seems that the fellow in the suit and I went a little too deep for a Halloween party, but at least our costumes were conversation starters. And they got us thinking about what we were really afraid of.

Perhaps the greatest gift of the “greatest fear” theme of Halloween was to get me thinking about my real fears. I embodied my fear. I literally wore it out of the house! I discussed my fear frankly in a public setting with strangers and friends, and poked fun at it.

Halloween can be a wonderful gift for facing fear.

Well, I don’t know what became of my three-piece suit friend, but dressing up as Madame Butterfly weirdly helped me get over the fear of being a social outcast.

People often cite that public speaking is the greatest fear, but it’s not. It’s a myth. Hey, I didn’t see anyone at the party dressed up as a public speaker — you know, the ones on the circuit with the creepy Botox, amazing dental work, and buttoned-down business garb.

We all might be creeped out by these kinds of public speakers, but no one’s really scared of public speaking itself. Not really.

They’re scared of what happens as a result of public speaking. Like me, they might be scared of being a social outcast or ostracized for something they say (or how they say it.) They might be afraid (like my buttoned-down party pal) of sounding unnatural and inhuman.

Those are some of the real fears behind the myth of the fear of public speaking. The oft-parroted “fear of public speaking” myth prevents folks from addressing their real fears.

So it’s Halloween.

Face your real fears. If you’re an adult, you’re not really afraid of zombies, monsters, ghosts, or public speaking. They’re all just illusions.

What are you really afraid of? And how will you face it?