Mahatma Gandhi — The Truth Behind the Fear of Public Speaking — The Re-engineered You

Todd Lemense
7 min readSep 23, 2020


In politics today, the loudest, most demanding voices have become of our elected leaders. We associate boldness and confidence with strength. So, how is it that Mahatma Gandhi, a man who couldn’t string two sentences together in front of a crowd, end up leading an independence movement? And if you think I’m exaggerating about Gandhi impediment, Gandhi himself referred to it as an awful strain of public speaking, which was such a burden, he tried to get out of dinner parties and friendly Gatherings if he knew he would be expected to speak.

When he was a student, Gandhi would have panic attacks over public speaking. He was asked once to give a speech at a vegetarian community in London. Now, if you know any vegetarians, you know how much they love talking about their diet. So, you think this was okay for Gandhi, right? But, Gandhi, the most prolific speaker of the 20th century, choked. He had to abandon his speech after reading one line of his prepared notes. He asked someone else to read the rest.

As a lawyer, he did no better in front of crowds. In his first case, he panicked when he went before the judge. He couldn’t think of any questions to ask in the courtroom, which is kind of what lawyers do. So, what finally turned Gandhi into a powerhouse of wisdom that we know him as. In one word, passion. Gandhi found a passion so great that it pushed him past his fears. He desired to see a free India. Later he would say that his hesitancy in his speech was an advantage. It made him consider his message, and he learned to pack meaning into short, pithy statements.

Our subject for today is going to be something Todd and I both feel very passionately about. We’re talking about public speaking, specifically about some of the myths about public speaking and communicating in public that we want to bust.

Myth 1: We talk all day, every day. So, shouldn’t public speaking come easy to us?

An article by Psychology Today says that up to 75% of the population has some level of glossophobia, and is more common in younger people. In addition, it is more prevalent in females than in males. So, young females have the highest rate of having glossophobia, fear of public speaking. It usually is present in people who have social anxiety disorders, and these disorders can affect 5–9% of Americans. This article states that it’s important to point out that not all individuals with the fear of public speaking also have social anxiety or another psychiatric disorder. But if you want to do a classroom of a hundred kids, 75 will be deathly afraid to come up and say a few words.

There are a few reasons why people have anxiety over public speaking. One is purely from people who generally experience higher anxiety in general; They’re more likely to have tension with public speaking too. It’s usually a cause for anxiety, and it raises blood pressure. And it gives you that fight or flight response. We often tell people that if they are getting into public speaking or giving a speech in front of a class, not to be afraid and imagine everybody in their underwear. But honestly, it comes from a pretty deeply-rooted fear of public speaking. Another reason why some people might fear public speaking is skill level. If you’re not prepared or physically can’t make the words work, you’re going to have anxiety over public speaking.

Again, from Psychology Today, imagine your cave ancestors wandering around, and one of your ancient tribal members turns around and says, “Hey, I’m tired of being attacked by woolly mammoths every morning. Why don’t we move somewhere safer?” Everyone disagrees with him/her, and hates their idea so much that they tell them to go away. Anytime this happens, it’s called inclusion and exclusion. Group inclusion was entirely necessary for early human survival. So, if you’re in a group or a tribe, you need to be accepted, and we literally feel pain from rejection. But there’s also a mechanism in place to make us feel foolish when we have everyone disagree with us.

Now, if I make a terrible joke in front of my friends, they think I’m dumb at that moment. But if I make too many of those suggestions, they will kick me out. But because we’re living in modern society, it is not such a bad thing. I can always find a new social group that will accept me, but the ancient man did not have that. Being kicked out of the tribe meant death. That’s called cancel culture, where if you make a big mistake, you can be canceled on Twitter, and that can ripple out into your life, like your job.

I think it’s just another expression of human trends. If you are trying to get into public speaking, it’s imperative to know that that is a real fear from a real place. It was embedded in us early that you have an instinct not to get shunned by the tribe. And that’s the first thing you’re going to have to grow accustomed to in public speaking.

If you have a problem with public speaking or being a better communicator, I have solutions for you. First is Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of the big things that it does is teach you how to publicly speak in short bursts. He also has the Dale Carnegie’s program. The classes are taught by people who graduated from the previous class.

The other part of how communication and clear public speaking can help you in earning. There’s an article called Why Employees Are Afraid to Speak, and it’s fascinating to me because it lays out all the reasons why a business can lose money if people are afraid to speak up. Here’s what they discovered from the tight-lipped people. Even if anonymous, these employees still didn’t feel safe to speak up. They had more importantly found that the comments they would have shared would have helped the organization.

Myth 2: Certain people are just natural speakers.

Now, some people are okay with public speaking. As said before, but on the flip side, 25% are not scared. However, not scared does not mean great at it. They will still need to practice, such as places like Toastmasters.

Toastmasters is a non-profit speaking organization of which both Todd and I are members of. Toastmasters will cure you. For reference, almost every CEO and business leader has taken Toastmasters. I’ve been a member since longer than I care to admit. I have seen people come in that painfully shy and then six to eight months later, they could give a huge speech effortlessly.

Myth 3: Corny articles on the internet tell us with their advice that we could all be ready to give a keynote at Madison Square Gardens

First and foremost, it takes a lot more to reprogram your mind to overcome your fear of public speaking. This, on top of gaining skill in this area, are all things that require professional assistance and a long-term game plan. For instance, and as mentioned above, places like Toastmaster are great. Between books, courses, programs, and tons of practice in areas you feel safe to do so without thinking you will be shamed all help. It is a baby-step thing and one that a 5-minute tutorial or article online will not remediate.

In retrospect, maybe if somebody had taken Gandhi during his lawyer career and trained him to ask questions, coaching him through it, he would have stayed a lawyer.

Final Thoughts

If you’re just stepping into public speaking if you’re thinking about it and you haven’t committed yet to getting better at interviewing, getting better at sharing at work getting better at communicating, you’re not alone. Like we said, 75% of the population has speaking anxiety of some sort. In summary, your journey to public speaking should be powered by your passion. Just like Gandhi, find something you’re passionate about, that will help you push through your fear and treat it like going to the gym. It really is going to benefit your life in an overall way. It will benefit your money-making ability. So, let that passion push you through and let yourself celebrate the small victories, the little stepping into a public speaking class or Toastmasters.

Every time you feel shaky, fear, or feel like you’re not doing well in public speaking, just remember your passion. Think about why you’re doing it, even if that is for the money or because you want to sell a book eventually. Whatever your passion is, let it be your engine. And remember, doing it for the interview power is a totally valid reason.

Bonus: List of Celebrities and Famous Speakers Who Are Scared to Stand Up and Speak

· Abraham Lincoln

· Mahatma Gandhi

· Thomas Jefferson

· Winston Churchill

· Harrison Ford

· Samuel L Jackson

· Bruce Willis

· Rowan Atkins

· Julia Roberts

· Warren Buffett

· Sir Richard Branson

Joel Osteen

Written By Todd Lemense Presented by Joe Anthony

Originally published at on September 23, 2020.