The fear I thought I could never conquer (and how I eventually did)

Thursday, May 25, 2017 Stef dela Cruz, MD 2 Comments

“Do you know that more people are afraid of public speaking than of death?”

I bet it was supposed to reassure me. It didn’t.

I was talking to a company executive about how I used to be afraid to speak onstage when he shared that bit of trivia, probably hoping it would make me feel better. Instead, it brought back cringe-worthy memories: my voice cracking when I spoke in front of my Leadership Journey teammates, my knees threatening to buckle during a summit on health and social media, and my smile – my quivering, obviously-contrived smile – that failed miserably to mask my phobia.

Fear. Nothing compares to the paralyzing, gut-wrenching helplessness we all feel when we have to do something we’re afraid of.

On the other hand, nothing compares to the feeling we get when we finally conquer one of our greatest fears… which, by the way, I did.


Hold your tongue, hold your career

I have always been afraid of public speaking. Take a hint from the fact that I chose writing – in contrast to speaking – about health.

My phobia didn’t rear its ugly head until I was in my thirties. Before then, I was just too busy trying to survive a developmental disorder, a family tragedy that literally threatened our sanity, and a career choice I had second thoughts about.

Years passed and I mostly outgrew my attention deficit. My father, diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, got better. As for my career, I finally listened to my calling.

It was when these existential storms had passed when many fears started to appear, unmasked by the lack of more urgent matters to attend to. Or perhaps God grew tired of how comfortable my life had become, which was why He threw me a curveball.

Either way, I started to dread speaking in public.

I did everything to avoid public speaking, even if it meant hurting – and downright stalling – my career.

If you’re reading this because you’re afraid of public speaking as well, I hope that this will help you take meaningful steps to conquering your speech anxiety. I can tell you, fellow glossophobe, that it’s worth the trouble.


Triggering an epiphany

Conquering a fear is rarely unintentional. Most of the time, one must take deliberate steps to overcome a phobia.

In my case, however, it started with an unwelcome epiphany.

“The first time I spoke on TV, Noli de Castro introduced me as the next big name in sports commentary. I received my cue to speak but when I did, I realized there was no sound. I was talking but nobody could hear me.” Bill Velasco told me his horror story the first time I met him. Despite the embarrassing start, he pushed forward.

Now, he is a household name – the Bill Velasco we all know.

“I have turned down too many requests to become a speaker,” I told him.
Bill found that unacceptable.

Throughout the night, he tried to convince me to do something about my own fear. Imagine talking to a person for three hours about how you were wasting an opportunity to be a better version of you!

It wasn’t a conversation I was bound to forget. I lost sleep over it. I thought of the many opportunities I could talk in front of people who read my blog and emailed me their problems.

Correction: the many missed opportunities.

Bill was unrelenting yet helpful. I’m happy to say his three-hour oration worked. Slowly, I realized my avoidant approach to glossophobia was counter-productive.

I guess it’s true what they say about Bill: Based on how he talked my ear off until I had a life-changing epiphany, he is a good commentator.


Challenge accepted… sort of

I was asked to speak on behalf of my team during a leadership workshop by Unilab Foundation.

It was a small crowd of about forty. I knew everyone by first name. The odds were not against me at all.

Still, I choked like a loser.

I shook like a leaf, my voice cracking throughout my speech. I looked so scared that I probably scared them, too. What a horrendous ten-minute speech!

There was, however, one good thing about it: I actually said yes to speaking in front of everyone. I didn't have second thoughts.

Three months later, I received an offer to speak in eight different provinces all over the Philippines about a topic I was passionate about: doctors in social media. I knew it was the next step – it was the kind of kismet thing that made you believe you were meant to accept the challenge.

Challenge accepted.

The first leg was a thirty-minute test talk. Every single minute of it, I still shook like a poor canine with distemper. I held my breath during most of it, which meant the crowd could hear me take big nervous gulps of air.

However, my voice didn’t crack anymore. Ah, progress!

Before the second leg, I received an invite to speak at the 2016 Medical Student Summit. Again, I said yes. It was during this affair that I could feel my fears melt away.

The anxiety was mild, just enough to keep me on my toes, and it faded immediately after I stepped onstage. During my 30-minute talk, I felt like I owned the stage!

I was breathing normally, speaking as I would in more intimate conversations, and loving every minute of it.

During the second leg of the nationwide tour, I knew my fear of public speaking was a thing of the past.


Goodbye, glossophobia!

To this day, I can’t believe I said no to so many opportunities just because I was afraid! I am quite relieved I have finally conquered my phobia.

When you stop saying no, the world starts saying yes to you.

Nothing feels as liberating as finally overcoming fear, which was why I knew I had to share my experience. If you are afraid of speaking onstage – or of anything else – I hope you also take definite steps to conquer your fear.

Start by saying, “Enough.”

It might be the hardest thing you’ll ever do… or it might be so easy that you’ll beat yourself up for not having done it sooner. Of course, you will never find out… unless you give it a try.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. A moment ago I was reading your article on the NMAT, now I'm here! I'm starting to become a fan of your work. Thank you for existing, Doc!

    1. We both have to thank my parents for that. ;)

      Thanks for dropping by, Renan! I'm glad you're having fun reading my blog!