10 tips for overcoming the fear of being bold

I’m working on being bold – whether it’s in a one on one conversation or in a presentation. In the past, I’ve often watered down what I say to avoid upsetting anyone. And I’m not alone. Many of the people that I coach are concerned about being bold. As a result, they dilute their message so much that they have zero impact on their audience.

Cultivate an attitude of boldness

Being bold is not something that you can “pull out of a hat” when you’re giving a presentation or speech. You need to develop an attitude of speaking out in your day to day life. Otherwise you won’t develop the courage to be bold in your presentations. Practice saying what’s on your mind when you’re with just one other person or a small group.

I’ve found blogging to be extremely useful in helping me be bold. Some posts I’ve written have taken me some time to publish because of my fear, but having done so I’m bolder. Here are some thoughts to help you develop an attitude of boldness in everyday life.

1. Stop being nice

What stops me being bold is that I want to be liked, I want to be nice. I don’t want to have to deal with anyone being upset or offended by what I’ve said. It’s worked for me in many ways, but it holds me back too. I keep this quote on a post-it above my desk:

2. Saying what you think enhances your career

Do you hold back saying what you think because you want to make sure that everything you say makes perfect sense and is supported by evidence? Me too. But research shows that people who speak up more are seen as leaders. Now that makes sense, but here’s the topsy-turvy kicker – what they said didn’t have to be particularly brilliant or clever or original. So don’t worry about being perfect, just speak up.

3. Not saying what you think annoys people

I’ve sometimes held back on saying what I think fearing that it will upset people. Then the situation deteriorates and I end of saying what I think, only to be told “Why you didn’t tell me that earlier?”

4. Your ideas can help other people

Do you think your ideas are not worth sharing, that they’re obvious. Then watch this gorgeous, short video (H/T Rich Hopkins):

5. What’s the worst that can happen

Sometimes when I want to say something bold, I stay silent because I just imagine a nameless disaster. But if I think it through  and ask myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” then I realise that the worst that will happen is that the person I’m speaking to might be upset for a day. Can I handle that? Yes, I can! And then often they don’t even get upset for five minutes. They just thank me for being straight! Often the consequences that we fear from being bold don’t materialise.

How to be bold in your presentations

Here are some tips for developing boldness in your presentations:

1. Ask your audience to take action

Just giving your audience information is the safe option. But what does it accomplish? Instead, answer this question:

“What do you want your audience to do with the information you’re giving them.”

Then use your presentation to persuade people to take that action.

For example, in my presentation on Kiva (see my Guide”How to make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation”) I could say to the audience:

“Lending money to poor people is an effective way of helping them.”

It would be interesting information, but I haven’t accomplished anything. Instead I say:

“Lend $25 to a poor person so they can start a business.”

2. Be provocative

In my research on learning styles I came across Frank Coffield, an academic challenging the prevailing mythology of learning styles in education. He said he was inspired by Karl Popper, who wrote in his autobiography:

‘My custom, whenever I am invited to speak in some place, of trying to develop some consequences of my views which I expect to be unacceptable to the particular audience. For I believe that there is only one excuse for a lecture: to challenge. It is the only way in which speech can be better than print’. (Unended Quest Open Court Publishing Company, 1976, p 124)

A friend said to me yesterday “If you don’t miss at least one plane a year, you’re arriving at the airport too early!” Now, I’m not going to change my habit of arriving at the airport in plenty of time, but I can see his point. Similarly, “If you’re not provoking at least one person in your audience, you’re being too nice.”

3. Imagine the friendliest audience

Imagine what you would dare to say if you knew that the audience were the friendliest most supportive bunch of people. That they’re already on your side. Now say that.

4. Express the main point of your presentation in one succinct sentence

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I call this your Key Message. The work of crafting your point into a Key Message has you think through what you really want to say. If you allow yourself several sentences to express your point, you’re likely to have woven all sorts of qualifications and caveats. So don’t. Say it in one clear and succinct sentence.

5. Get rid of weasel words

Do you pepper your phrases with weasel words and phrases? Like “I’d just like to” or “sort of” or “kind of”. They reduce the power and boldness of your ideas. You may not know you’re doing this. So either record yourself and listen back, or ask a friend to give you feedback.

Stop holding back – be bold. You’ll get your message across, spread your ideas and enhance your career.

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  1. Wow. BOLD! I have tried to being bold in some of my speeches, by using your tips like ‘asking audience to take action’, and ‘ask provocative question’. And i must say it really feels good after I did it.

    And thanks Olivia for sharing more tips here! :)

  2. As always, great stuff! This post also reminds me of a rather humorous find: http://twitpic.com/4xha23 Enjoy!

    • Hi Tony

      That’s a great find! Having spent the first 20 years of my life in England I can totally relate!

  3. Hi Olivia:

    As you might suspect, I possess a naturally bold personality!

    Three times this month, I was asked to “be nice, be more diplomatic, and don’t say such provocative things.”

    Those words are like catnip to me. Say them, and it’s 10 times more likely that I’m not going to comply!

    Go ahead and be bold. Sure, you’ll get in trouble for it. And many people won’t like you.

    But you’ll treasure those who do!

    • Hi Laura

      Ha – yes I think I would have guessed that about you!

      For those of us who are more cautious your point about treasuring those who do like you is great.

      Your comment also reminds me of the saying “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than ask for permission.”


  4. It’s been my experience that audiences like speakers that have opinions and take a stand. They may not agree with the speaker. They may not like what the speaker said. However they appreciate the authenticity and frankness.

    I am one that likes to challenge people’s point of view, especially entrenched traditional, that’s-the-way we’ve always done it perspectives. I find that being bold doesn’t mean you have to be rude. You can still be assertive, bold and provocative without doing harm to another.

  5. Pithy and poignant, Olivia. Well done!

    I hope that this post encourages your readers to push themselves in the direction of boldness, even if it feels uncomfortable. As Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”



    • Love the quote, John, thanks for adding it.


    • Great quote, John. I’m going to make this part of my vision for 2012!

  6. Great post, one of our writers actually used lesson number 1, “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity” in a related post targeted at brands and how they should act bold and not please everyone.

    This article can be read here http://is.gd/eXH34U


    • Yes, the principle is the same – whether you’re a brand or a person.

  7. Excellent article with a wonderfully useful list of specific tips. I especially like #3 and 4 – not saying anything and your ideas help other people. We hear all too many speakers who drone on without getting to the point, but never taking a stand. In my workshops, I see this more with women, particularly as they secure their ideas with “I heard, they said…” Women are less likely to own their ideas. We should all remember that what we share can be anywhere on the spectrum from “a good reminder” to “life changing.” Personal stories, experiences and opinions make a presentation relevant and real. Great tip. Thanks for a great article!

    • Thanks Marla, I’m glad you found the article useful. I find that even removing the words “I think…” or “I believe…” makes a stronger impression.


  8. Thanks for the article. This is extremely useful. But speaking is an art too. Just like speaking boldly can’t be pulled out of a hat so is speaking thoughtfully. Some people are so bold and dogmatic that they tend to sound offensive and destructive to other people’s confidence or self esteem either intentionally or unintentionally and they don’t even bother to care as to how many people they have disrespected in the process. But I think one should also give a thought before speaking because once we let words go out of our mouth we can’t take them back. Those who speak their ideas aloud might be seen as leaders but in course of time every smart person realizes if he/she is worth it or if the leader is just trying to show that he/she is the boss. It depends on each one’s way of thinking and what they value. At least I believe that speaking both thoughtfully and boldly is a more tougher and valued skill than just speaking bold.

    • Hi S K

      Thank you for adding your wisdom. I do agree that you can overdo being bold – as you can overdo any public speaking advice. There is always a balance.

      I wrote this post for people who tend towards being thoughtful and possibly cautious, to encourage them to be bold.

      The combination of being both thoughtful and bold as you suggest is a winner.


  9. Thanks a lot for this wonderful article…

  10. Inspiring! olivia.i have read your write ups and i find it quite inspiring.And i pray that i do well in that field.thanks alot.

  11. Hi Olivia ,
    This is Naresh from bangloore. I read you post and hope it will be helpfull for me .Let me try the following points from now and mail the feedback.

    Note:This is my first time of commenting in web post like this.

    • Hi Naresh
      Thank you for commenting and I wish you all the best in your presentations.

  12. can u help me with my fear of speaking in class.i get extremely full of fear when i even think of speaking in class.i want to be bold in class

  13. Dear Olivia,

    thank you for the useful post. It made me think about Robin William’s books on design. She teaches that contrast is very important. It makes stuff interesting and beautiful. Being bold is a way to give contrast to your message (N.B. not conflict). Maybe, being bold, makes the message intresting and beautiful.
    So, here is her advice on how to achieve contrast: “Don’t be a wimp!” :-)

  14. Dear Olivia,

    I love the points that you made, especially about fear of people not liking you. You should always be true to yourself and your beliefs in every aspect of being. Just because someone does not agree with you does not mean you have done anything wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Whether your opinion is similar to theirs, differentiate from theirs, or changes theirs, you have completed a job well-done. As long as you get the audience thinking you have full-filled your role.

    As an audience member of many speeches I notice that often times the speaker holds back from being bold because they actually fear how we will be affected by their views, and they fear negatively affecting the audience. Times like these I reflect on a quote from world-renowned spiritual activist Mirianne Williamson.
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world.”

    Thank you for sharing!

    -William David Lee Swagger

  15. Dear Olivia
    I really enjoy’d reading your article. I myself get panic attacks easy. do you by chance have any advice for people who tend to freak out with public speaking because of prior experience. when I was a child I was traumatized when I was in a recital and it kind of stuck with me deeply. I’ve gone as far as going to karaoke places so as to expose myself to being seen. when I have to present a project for school I literally shake, I have whats called familiar tremors it doesn’t really effect my life until Im nervous it just makes it frustrating. any tips?

  16. Olivia, What a great summary. From my years of consulting, I agree with all of them. However, I think the BOLD statement was bringing these together with a motivating call to action.

    I’ll quote you often on this. Thank you.

  17. lehi olivia
    let me try all these bolding points to make my presentation awsome as m thinking. m thankfull to provide us such a nice tips. my presentation is at 13 of december. gud luck

  18. I am currently on a purposeful soul searching journey to permanantly liberate my voice. I relinquished my personal power as a child and couldn’t figure out why I was experiencing being trapped within myself. I just kept saying for all of these many years that “there is something wrong with me” Consequently, last night through much prayer, tears and agony I discovered that I never responded to insult, mocking, accussation, ridicule or punishment from those around me…I just took it and kept quiet ALL THESE YEARS! With that being said, I find this article so on target, educational and soothing. The responses and speech that you describe accurately display what I have been saying, thinking and doing. Thank you for blessing me with this valuable information. I’m on my way to Re-Learning to be BOLD! Thank you.


  19. Hi Olivia,
    Within no seconds , your words reflected my fear attitude in me, but it took minutes to express what i am trying to do it now. However i am very much grateful to you, that at last I started to express and I will not stop it here. I always talk to myself but never spill it out. Thanks for your words which have pushed me ahead, a bit, from where I used to stop always.

  20. i m very shy person and i become nervous when my teacher ask me question then my teacher thought i m weak in study but i know that i m not weak in studies i m want to speak infront of him but i can’t so what i do to lose this shy character :(

  21. we don’t lose shy characters overnight. It takes years of practice to speak freely for some people, like myself. I’m still learning. Don’t give up. The secret is keep trying and you will attract what you want.

  22. Hi Olivia,

    Many thanks for the great article that strikes a chord for many like me who are too soft/nice and dont speak when we need to. Being BOLD is a mantra that I will follow

  23. hello… i am student of 1st year. i dont have boldness. i am soooo unbold. u cant belive how much unbold i m…. please tell me basic tips how to be bold….

  24. Thanks for this wonderful post. God bless you. Infact you have inspire me with your profound words. Keep it up. I have save this page for frequent reading

  25. WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for concept

  26. Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told was a enjoyment account it.
    Glance complicated to more brought agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we communicate?

  27. Wonderful writeup sire, being bold is what all great people have in common, they always seems to know exactly what to do.

  28. This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.

    I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent
    post. Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

  29. i have been a victim of not being able to express myself n private and public.its affecting so badly that i can even relate freely. sometimes, i summon courage to speak in public but my speech is unorganised n at d top of my voice.i wish i was born n raised in d US or UK


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