When you think of Malcolm Gladwell, you probably think of his best-selling books, groundbreaking ideas in social science, or even his articulate speaking voice. But when the best-selling author, thinker and longtime New Yorker writer joined Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast, in partnership with iHeartRadio and Sleep Number, he revealed that he hasn’t always been a confident public speaker.
“I have done a lot of public speaking over the years, and my improvement is a linear function of the number of times I’ve done it” Gladwell shares with Huffington. “Once you can rid yourself of the anxiety, obviously the task becomes a lot easier.”
Gladwell explains that he was a runner as a child, and his pre-race anxiety would always fill him with feelings of intense fear and angst before each track meet. So, later in life, when it was time to speak in front of large audiences, he would recall his running anxiety, and suddenly he would feel more calm about delivering the speech. “Every time I would get even remotely nervous about public speaking,” he explains, “I would think, ‘But this isn’t nearly as bad as running a race,’ and my anxiety would subside.”
Gladwell’s comparison strategy allowed him to channel a memory that evoked more fear than public speaking, which helped calm his nerves. For everyone who has a fear that they struggle with, he suggests doing the same. “My advice to people would be… find something even more terrifying,” he suggests. “Do that. Pursue that. And speaking will cease to create any kind of terror in you.”
When it comes to managing feelings of fear and stress, the solution comes down to your mindset. “I understand that certain things, certain responsibilities, seem to loom so large in your imagination that they can be a little scary,” he says, referring to how he manages his workload. “But my response to that has always been that if you prepare properly for those events, then the stressfulness goes away.”