Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran wasn’t always the polished, confident business leader you see on ABC’s Shark Tank.
Early in her career, Corcoran had been invited to speak at a New York City banking event. She thought the talk would be a good way to generate some free advertising. When she got up to speak in front of 800 people, she froze. She told me that she couldn’t speak, literally. She slumped back to her seat, “mortified” at the experience.
Corcoran didn’t turn a $1,000 loan into a billion-dollar business without being tenacious and resilient. The day after her public-speaking fiasco she called NYU and pitched a course on real estate sales. She taught the course for the next five years, developing the public speaking skills that would make her a star in business and on television.
Most people fear public speaking or experience stage fright at the very thought of delivering a presentation because they don’t do it very often. Corcoran intuitively understood that the only way to conquer her fear would be to face it. As it turns out, Corcoran was doing exactly what astronauts do to prepare for fear-provoking experiences.
I recently spoke to astronaut Chris Hadfield, who you might know from his now viral video singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while floating weightless in the International Space Station. Hadfield tackles the topic of overcoming fear in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth.
It takes enormous courage for astronauts to strap themselves inside a rocket, “a 4.5 megaton bomb loaded with explosive fuel.” Hadfield says that most people would be terrified at the prospect of sitting in a rocket. And yes, it would be terrifying if you were just “plucked off the street, hustled into a rocket ship and told you were launching in four minutes.”
Hadfield is not terrified at all because he has trained for launches and space walks for many, many years. He’s been taught to handle just about every situation that might occur.
“I’ve taken part in so many highly realistic simulations of space flight that when the engines are finally roaring and firing for real, my main emotion is not fear," he says. "It’s relief. At last.”
Fear, Hadfield says, comes from the feeling of being out of control and not knowing what to expect. The goal is not to eliminate the fear, but to push past it, to manage the fear so it doesn’t manage you. The more knowledge and experience you have and the more you’ve practiced, the less you will fear an experience like delivering a presentation in front of a roomful of people (or conducting a space walk outside of a spaceship orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per hour).
Corcoran and other famous entrepreneurs realize that their success depends largely on their ability to sell themselves and their ideas. Those who experienced severe stage fright early in their careers (and you’d be surprised at how many did), took the one step necessary to overcome the fear -- doing it over and over and over again.