How I Overcame My Fear of Public Speaking


I’m in a bathroom stall of a community center, shaking, taking in shallow breaths while my gut is churning and spiraling into a deep pit. I feel nauseous. I thought I was over this and would never suffer from this retched fear again.

The sick feeling takes me back to when I was 14 in eighth grade English class, the day we had to recite our memorized monologues from Romeo and Juliet in front of the class. My turn is next. My heart is pounding like I just sprinted the 100 yard dash as my class mate finishes her monologue. I hear the class clapping and I begin to feel my body tingle and my fingers and hands feel like they are going numb. I hear my name called. I begin to have tunnel vision and the classroom gets blurry and small.

I find myself standing in front of the class and hear my classmates say, “what's wrong with her? why isn't she talking, is she in a trance?” I'm semi-frozen standing there unable to function. I’m involuntarily fiddling with a button on my black, grunge, mini dress and I’m wondering if I’m in a trance as well. I can't seem to snap out of it. Slowly, I start to realize what will come of this bazaar behavior I’m living through. My tough, shaved head, bleached mohawk, punk vibe will be totally shattered. Everyone will know about the fear I live with and that I’m not actually cool at all, but an awkward insecure misfit who can't even stand in front of her class and recite a monologue I’ve been memorizing for a week.

With virtually no control of myself whatsoever, I burst into tears and run out of the class and down the back of the building, dart into the nearest bathroom stall and sob in complete humiliation.

My Fear of Public Speaking Strikes Again

Elli Milan giving a motivational speech at Milan Art Experience

Here I am again melting down in a bathroom stall so frustrated because I kicked this. I overcame my fears. I have spoken publicly dozens of times to big audiences and developed a love for it. Why am I falling apart now? I came on time, and saw the crowd already seated listening to their guild director announcing the upcoming critique, and art show, “Birds and Blooms in Watercolor” being held at Sunny Villages Independent Living Community. This is when the heart pounding, and numb fingers and toes began and I raced for the bathroom before I lost control of myself.

What am I going to do? My talk is all planned out with a powerpoint that explains marketing trends, online sales for artists, and how we are on the brink of a worldwide renaissance. I was going to talk to these artists about how they will change the world as they rise with the surge of art in culture. How will they rise when half of them are in wheelchairs or have walkers? I literally did not see one artist out of the 200 people in the crowd who was under the age of 60. I thought I was talking to serious artists who want to build an art business and influence culture. I'm 38 years old, how can I even relate to these people?

They don't want to hear from me about a second career or making a living from their art. They want to paint watercolor portraits of their grandchildren and maybe hear about how to take better pictures of flowers to paint. My thoughts are spiraling fast and I don't know what to do. I looked at my watch and realize I am due to speak and the guild leader will be looking for me to introduce me. I have to go out there and say something. I start to think about public humiliation or involuntary bodily functions, or what if I just blank out and go catatonic. What if I just sound stupid, or I don't make any sense. What if the guild leader starts talking to all the other guild leaders and warns them to never ever have me speak to any artist ever again.

When in Doubt, Speak From The Heart

I am just so sick of myself and all of my ridiculous thoughts. I am just so sick of my pride. This is not about me at all, it’s about them. I have to get my eyes off of myself and dig into my intuition and speak from my heart. I have to have faith that I am here for a reason and maybe what I have planned is exactly what these older artists need to hear. Maybe they do want to sell their art and change the world.

Elli Milan talking in front of audience at art gallery showing

I’m standing next to the guild director and he hands me the mike. I’m aware that I’m shaking a bit and begin to awkwardly share a bit about my background. The more I talk the more I start to find myself and find the sweet electric stream of the crowd pulling and hungry for the next word. My energy begins to sync with theirs and I am now effortlessly making them laugh at the stories of my early failures. I begin to tell them that they were born to be an artist and the world needs to hear their voice. They have years and years of life experience encoded in every brushstroke and there are generations that must know the mysteries locked inside. They are obligated to paint and offer their work for sale so that their shared wisdom will be honored and appreciated.

I can feel a life force inside them surge as my words land in their hearts. They still need and want purpose and they still have a destiny to fulfill. I tell them they are the vanguards of the coming renaissance and the art they will create in the coming years will be their legacy and cherished into the generations. I see these artists lift and some stand to their feet.

Your Greatest Fear is Connected to Your Destiny

What if I had allowed my pride and selfishness of self-preservation to rob us all of this incredible moment? What if I was the only one who had the unique experiences that all added up to be there on this night to give that message? I realize in that moment that I am just a messenger and my speech was planned, written and recorded long before I even existed. I just was the person to step up to the podium that night and release it. I felt alive and connected and like I too was living my destiny.

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  • Michael W Zimmermann

    I just watched a YouTube video of you and your daughter doing a demo of a painting of your other daughter. What a wonderful presentation, so full of valuable information, and so well executed! Both you and Demitra (spelling?) are great artists. Also felt kinship when I read of your public speaking challenges—that was exactly me as well. You’ve overcome it beautifully! (With me it was “Twelfth Night” in high school). As an artist I’ll continue to check you guys out and keep learning!

  • Leigh Hooker

    Thankyou Elli, your words bring tears to my eyes as I sit reading at Centrelink applying for a job seeker payment. Right now leaping into the unknown looking for a better lifestyle to live and work in. And I am a senior artist with all that experience you so beautifully put into words.
    Thankyou. 💖

  • Jodi “Shen” Hallford

    Elli, your words are powerful and true! I spoke to a class last week and had the same fears, but got the bright idea (from up above) to instead of having a friend interview me (he was actually standing right next to me, ready) I would share the stories about each of my pieces. They asked so many questions and were so engaging! Nobody wanted our time together to end, especially me! Thanks for your beautiful artistry that you expertly weave into your writing and keep me ever so inspired! Excited to be a part of this upcoming renaissance! Keep forging the path, friend!

  • susan merkel

    I am beyond words! You gave me so much hope when I came on board💓I took classes after classes praying I could move forward . Each time I grabbed a brush and started to paint I was in the hospital having surgery after 9 I gave up and took a break. I Love each and every one in your family. Today I will never forget that moment when I arrived for a class and you prayed for me in my recovery.. Today I am feeling stronger and moving forward 💓💓💓🌸I cant Thank You and your Family for what you have given back to the WORLD💓Love you all🌸💕

  • Colleen brown

    Wonderful words, Elli. We are not done no matter our age. I love how you encouraged them. Many are indeed looking for their purpose even later in life. Bless you!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.