How Tony Haile Conquered Public-Speaking Anxiety
BY Burt Helm
The CEO of Chartbeat explains how he overcame his fear of getting onstage. One secret to his success? Just do it, then do it again.
I’d done a round-the-world yacht race, where 100-foot waves crashed over the foredeck. I led and managed polar expeditions. I never felt fear in those moments. But when I started at Chartbeat in 2009, I was terrified of public speaking.
I imagined myself up onstage, getting nervous, my mind going blank, then my body starting to sweat and people being horrified by me. I was asked to speak at a conference in Las Vegas. I felt like I had to be the guardian of Chartbeat’s story, so I agreed to go. I decided not to lean on PowerPoint, which made me even more nervous.
I prepared like crazy. I flew to Vegas and spent the entire time pacing around my hotel room memorizing my 45-minute speech. I decided to wear jeans and a white shirt, to hide sweat.
Onstage, I tried to capture the audience’s imagination by explaining how everything it needed to know about the real-time Web, it could learn from a Japanese automotive engineer who died in 1984. I survived. I didn’t get a standing ovation, but the audience seemed interested. A few people even complimented me afterward.
The main thing that helped me overcome my anxiety was to speak onstage as often as possible. Over time, it’s gotten a lot easier. Now, I speak at conferences about once a month. I’ll improvise for the first few minutes and, if I get a laugh, I can relax. If you think about it, the audience wants you to succeed.
BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. @burthelm