004 Public Speaking Fear of Criticism

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Everyone will NOT like you as a speaker (or as a person for that matter).

That may be the #1 thing you need to know to get over the fear of public speaking, or to not let unwarranted negative feedback bother you.



Most public speakers allow the minority to cripple them with fear. They worry about the one who won’t like the speech, or laugh at the joke, or won’t like. You get the idea.

First, remember the 2/2/96 rule.

2% will think you are the best ever. 2% will hate you. Shoot for the 96%.

You do not NEED to be liked by everyone. Everyone does not like country music, or rap, or classical. But do artist shut down because some don’t like them? Nope. Only when the majority doesn’t like them is there a problem.

Second, remember the jealousy factor.

The people who make snide remarks or try to “help” you are usually jealous.

They want the spotlight and the only way they can feed their pride is by being negative to you.

Third, concentrate on the positive comments.

Forget about the one or two negative comments and focus on the words that build. We all have a natural inclination to remember the worst. Focus on the best!

On average 2% will approach you after a speech with some “constructive” criticism. From experience I can tell you that the typical speaker takes the criticism to heart. They replay it over and over. They allow it to defeat them.

You cannot worry about the 2%

Let me give you an example from the last email letter I sent to you. This may not be a live speech example, but the principle is the same.

I mentioned that my son was giving a speech and wanted to say something funny. Then I recommended a resource for others who want to become funnier.


Many bought Brad’s humor package and have been extremely thankful. Out of thousands of emails sent I got one negative. I reprinted it here UNEDITED….

“Using your son to try to suck me into buying some other guys supposed humour, I don’t thik that’s funny at all, maybe idiotic is a better word, you fool, now I’, laughing”

I understand WHY it might have bothered this person, but I can’t let that bother me. Why? Two reasons.

First, it’s one person. I knew before sending the email that some would not like it. If you are going to let a handful of people control you, then get out of public speaking right now.

Second, look at the words used: “idiotic,” “fool.” “I’ laughing.” Here’s a lesson for you. Assuming you didn’t say or do anything wrong, remember this: The stronger the language the person uses the more you should ignore it.

Lesson 1: You cannot let what someone MIGHT think bother you. 

Everyone will not like your speech. No big deal. Don’t root your words in worry or fear. Instead, anchor them in the value you are going to deliver to the audience. Plan your presentation with the knowledge that you will be helping listeners.

Spending your time imagining the worse only drains you of the energy that should go into your presentation. Forget about dreaming up the worst, dream about the best. Think about the wonderful comments or congratulations you will receive.

Lesson 2: You cannot let unsolicited negative feedback bother you.

This is my favorite advice from Alan Weiss on unsolicited feedback.

Here’s another “boundary” issue. When speaking for the Washington DC National Speakers Association Chapter last Saturday, a woman approached me at break to tell me that, while I was a terrific speaker, “all professional women in the audience found my remarks about my wife and daughter demeaning” (I had been kidding that they were awaiting me in New York spending money on my daughter’s bridal shower). She hadn’t taken a poll, of course, so she must have been channeling all those people otherwise on their feet and applauding.

She told me not to respond, but to reflect. I told her I wouldn’t reflect but would respond, and that I had had it with the presumptuousness of people who kept their own box scores of whether I was positive or negative about women in their own, parochial and biased view. I told her to go join the pronoun police because I wasn’t interested in anything she had to say.

I believe, maliciously, she was trying to throw me off balance in the middle of my presentation. Instead, she energized me because I was able to tell her immediately that I’d have none of it.

Unsolicited feedback is ALWAYS for the sender, and ranges from innocently vacuous to malignantly evil. Don’t let the energy suckers prevail.

Most of us would not be so firm or direct. Most would take the verbal beating with grace. Alan proves you can be articulate while refusing to be a punching bag for another’s agenda.

Lesson 3: Remember the Goal.

The goal is to communicate in a way to help others. We do not (or should not) speak for applause or accolades. The speaker who craves acceptance is the same one who is injured by the minority with the negative comments.

When your goal is to give the listeners the best you have for THEIR benefit, then feedback isn’t important. How the audience takes and applies the message is what matters.

So do not be afraid of what other people might criticize you for. Concentrate on helping the audience reach their goals.

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