I was chatting with someone recently and they mentioned a book whose title has played on my mind ever since. Called And Death Came Third, it was the title which initially caught my interest.
I haven’t read the book (yet) but the idea is based on the premiss that people’s biggest fear is walking into a room full of strangers and networking, second is public speaking and death comes third – hence the title.
It got me thinking about the weird things people are scared of which can, in some extreme cases, stop them living a full and satisfying life. In the business world public speaking is part of what you have to do and our children regularly give presentations at school as part of the curriculum. It’s something we all face in life at some point, whether in a personal or business environment.
Now I have no problem walking into a room full of people and chatting, networking, whatever you want to call it. If there was an Olympic medal for talking I’d be up there in the rankings. I regard it as a room full of strangers waiting to become friends – I want to get to know everyone, hear their stories.
My big fear, after snakes, roaches and spiders, is public speaking, and definitely ranks ahead of death in my book. Put me on stage, give me a role to play and I’m fine. Ask me to stand on a stage and speak to a room full of strangers as myself, not a chance. Even speaking to a meeting full of people I know makes me want to throw up. It’s something that has stopped me doing things I’d really like to. See something I want get involved in and it calls for speaking in public, forget it.
In recent years though, things have changed. I’ve discovered if you’re put in a situation and there is no choice but to face the fear, you can do it.
Take snakes. Photographs of them I can just about handle, glass tanks full of them only if I’m stood well back. See one in real life and I’m stood on a chair, feeling like someone has poured iced water over me and wanting to scream like a banshee in the adrenaline rush of fear.
Everyday I’d have to kill at least one of the darn things – not by hand but with a shovel. Chop their heads off. You have to. I found one huge cotton mouth curled up in my son’s guitar amplifier, so huge my hunting, shooting, gun-toting neighbour wouldn’t come near it without snake boots and firearms. I still don’t like snakes but I don’t have nightmares about them.
The same with spiders. Now those I did have nightmares about. That phobia was cured by my eldest son announcing there was a Black Widow spider sat in a web by the garage door and there was no way he was going anywhere near it… especially as it was about to give birth.
Let me tell you if my reptile loving son – who would rescue snakes from my manic antics with a shovel – wasn’t going near it, there was no chance for me. However, the prospect of a garage overrun with Black Widows was enough for me to face my fears, get in there and get rid of it. I saw an awful lot of respect in both my boys’ eyes after that.
After facing some of my primal fears post-hurricane the only block left in life was public speaking, but like the previous fears fate intervened and gave me no choice.
My spouse skyped home during a business trip to Manila. In the middle of cooking dinner with my laptop perched precariously on the toaster, I make it clear I was quite busy, and couldn’t he call later?
‘Not really darling, have you any idea how late it is here?’ he had a point. ‘I’ve just called to give you a heads up. They’ll be an email coming to you tonight from the company, about a ship launch in Rotterdam next week.’
‘Ha, so I finally get invited to do something fun do I? Next week?’ I was rattling saucepans by this stage and not really listening.
‘Well, yes, they’ve had to bring the launch date forward, a problem at the shipyard,’ he sounded a bit edgy, ‘they’d like you to be the Godmother.’
There’s no need to go into the finer details of my reaction, suffice it to say I had eight days to write a speech for Christening the ship – launched with the obligatory champagne bottle ; buy a gift from myself to the ship to be presented to the Captain (‘some artwork would be ideal and if you could say a few words as you present it that would be great – oh, and can you arrange for an engraved plaque to be attached to it?’); buy a new outfit suitable for a ship launch – and the killer, make a thank you speech after the Celebration Lunch at the Rotterdam Yacht Club.
No pressure there then.
It’s amazing what you can make yourself do in situations where you have no option but to take a deep breath and get on with it. Did I want to decline the ship launch? Hell yes, but I didn’t want to let my husband down either – let’s face it I hadn’t been chosen for the honour because of my service to the company.
Having faced down snakes, spiders and public speaking, I’m now prepared to take on most things. I’m proud to say death comes first in the fear rankings now, although I’m starting to see that as the beginning of a whole new adventure…
And Death Came Third!
Andy Lopata andPeter Roper P aperback : 224 pages
Publisher: Lean Marketing Press (March 30, 2006)