What are you scared of?


I was once complemented by a fireman for being brave. A FIREMAN who risks death, climbs ladders, walks into places people are screaming to get out of... why? Because I got up in a room with about 20 people in it and told some jokes. 

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What is it about Public Speaking that makes us afraid?

When starting comedy I was of course nervous. I can still pinpoint the fear. 


My fear was that no one will laugh, that I will stumble over a line... that the people I want to impress would write me off and worse, that I will like awake at night reliving the mistakes I repeatedly made. I'd be excluded from the comedian's table and be alone with nothing but the thoughts of my failure.


Intellectually I knew my fear was irrational (if you want to be popular and liked by comedians, storming it every single time is a way to make us resentful and jealous, not friendly). Worse, if I didn't control it, it would be a self fulfilling prophecy. And here is where the problem lies, and it is a problem I believe that is worse for women than men.


Women cry more than men (women cry between 30 and 64 times a year, and men only cry between six and 17 times each year). There are a lot of cool theories as to why this is, including that our jobs are more emotional (we tend to go into caring professions and enjoy more rich emotional lives), Men have tiny levels of prolactin, women prefer more emotional arts (novels, films etc) therefore we have more reason to cry... and that our tears reduce sexual desire in men (a natural rape defence)...

But what are tears? They are a form of communication. They signal submission. They are an obvious signal to a larger aggressive male that you mean no harm and wont be attacking as you have blinded yourself and got all snotty. 

Men are less able to read emotions on faces than women. Personally I believe this is why there is so much confusion around modern sexual politics. But it also means as women we are programmed to be more obvious with our emotions on the surface. 

This might make our emotions harder to control when performing. I have cried onstage, I have felt my words catch in my throat. It is weird that this behaviour supposed to defend us, is actually the thing which we fear most. 

Women are generally wired for consensus, we get dopamine from consensus right? Because we are physically weaker... So if you guys are arguing about something, in a work environment, I’m going to try and get everyone to agree. 2000 years ago getting everyone to agree made my life safer.
If I’m 8 months pregnant I need protection from the whole tribe. I want everyone to agree. So, I’m going to pretend to agree even with things I actually don’t. We get dopamine from harmony because I need you to like me because I need your protection.
— Whitney Cummings on The Joe Rogan Experience #1067

I see this a lot in female speakers, we try and please the audience, try to win them round and get them to like us. Lots of speeches I've witnessed from women start with an apology.

If you are stood in front a room full of people psychologically you are either leading them into battle or defending yourself from banishment.

I suggest that as women, we have to consciously decide to be the leader, to be confrontational, a position that is alien to our instinct to be diplomatic and seek harmony. 


This is why comedians like Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers were so insanely exciting: they were different, they weren't trying to be liked, in fact would say things that outraged and shocked the crowd. This is a common trait in male comedians, but outright aggression isn't a nettle often grasped by newer acts, particularly women*.

*no science to back this up, just my observations. 

How did I overcome my fear?

Simply, I got onstage enough to know that so much way outside my control that basing my self worth on an audience reaction is stupid. Now, I knew that anyway, in theory I could just have started from the premise. But thinking about what emotions might feel like and feeling them 

Stage time teaches you so much about yourself. I've had average gigs in front of friendly crowds of hundreds of people that can be to an outsider classed as 'storming it'. But I'm irritated that didn't stand out in the line up, that I was actually average and had I gone up with a better mindset I would have raised the bar for the evening. Equally I've had gigs where I barely got laughs, but considering the circumstances of the room, even holding their attention for a small time felt like a massive victory. 

So, what are YOU afraid of? Get in touch and let me know!

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