The Moment of Doubt (And How It Led to $500,000 In The Bank)

Presentation Skill Stories

Have you ever been to a primary school play?
There they are, all the kids, all keen to play their part.

And then one kid forgets his part.

He stands there dumbfounded. Unable to speak. Frozen in fear. The words seemingly circulating in his brain somewhere.

I was that kid!

Except I wasn’t five years old. I was thirty-three years old and I was giving my first presentation ever on The Brain Audit. Except at that point, it wasn’t even called The Brain Audit. I was, at least in my mind, just giving a one-hour seminar.

And about twenty minutes into that one hour, I froze

Nothing. I couldn’t remember a thing. There were twenty five people in the room looking right at me, and my mind was blankety-blank. And time doesn’t just slow down in these moments. It shuts down. You feel suffocated, unable to move or even twitch an eyebrow.

My wife, Renuka, saved me that night.

She told the audience we were going to take a 10-minute break. Imagine that. A 10-minute break in the middle of a presentation. But there I was ten minutes later, my brain all rebooted. And I gave my first presentation on The Brain Audit ever. But that was my first ever event. Sure I goofed up. But then I was fine.

Fine until Wellington, that is

I had to speak to this group of insurance agents. One hundred and fifty of them. And I was being paid the grand sum of $1500 plus airfare + expenses. And though it was at least three-four years later and forty presentations later, I did it again.

I became that five-year old on the stage again

My 45-minute speech was done in twenty. And I fled the stage. I was mortified because I forgot what I was supposed to say. And I knew in that moment, that I really should stop doing trying to be a speaker. Heck I might as well go and hide behind my computer and never show my face again.

Moments of doubt creep up in everyone’s mind

But this isn’t a moment. This is a crisis. You’re being mangled, pulverised and every bone in your body is telling you to eject, eject and eject. And yet you stay on course. You feel the anguish, the shame, the utter doubt. And then when you’ve done enough of you self-pity, you wake up the next day (or several days later) and you get back to doing what you need to do.

What I needed to do was go back to Wellington

Back to that same hotel. Back to that same stage. Back to face a fear so strong that even though I wasn’t going to be speaking to the same audience; or even speaking on the same topic; or the fact that it several years had elapsed. I was still petrified of—get this—the very room! But I stood up, gave my speech. And got a rousing applause.

And that’s what you have to do

The only way to face the fear, is to face it. You pick yourself, dust yourself off and start all over again. That’s what marks out the people who succeed vs. the people who don’t.

The people who don’t, make excuses. They say: I tried this stuff. It didn’t work. Well hello there, try it again. And again. At least so that you get over the fear. If for no one else, then at least for yourself.

Because the moment of doubt doesn’t care

As you get better at what you do, you have more challenges. Some challenges you breeze through. Some make you feel five again. Fearful. Blank. Unable to go on. But you must go on, because if you do there is that so-called pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow.

Remember The Brain Audit presentation I was telling you about?

Well, at that point I hadn’t written The Brain Audit. But after that event, someone came up to me and asked me for notes. Of course I didn’t have any notes. But she persisted. So I wrote out the notes a few days later and sent it to her in a PDF. Those notes became the basis for The Brain Audit as it is today.

And today that one book alone has sold over $500,000 worth of copies to date.

One book. Half a million dollars!

In my wildest dreams I could not have envisioned a turnaround like that. But it could have gone the other way as well. I could have given up. Decided to go into early ‘retirement’. And that would be the end.

Doubt shakes our very core

When you’re doing a course. Learning a new skill. Doing something different or scary. And the longer you wallow in self-pity, the more stupid excuses you make, the more that doubt is going to chew you up and spit you out.

Be that five year old.

Freeze in fear if you have to. Take your ’10-minute break.’
Then come back to fight.

And win!

So tell me what was your moment of doubt? And how did you overcome it?
Share your experience below

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  1. says

    I have been a teacher for 31 years and speaking in front of groups has never bothered me. Many people tell me I could be an inspirational speaker. I am in total command when it comes to teaching and speaking in front of groups. However, I am now trying to start my own business. I have met many obstacles and this statement spoke loudly to me: “And the longer you wallow in self-pity, the more stupid excuses you make, the more that doubt is going to chew you up and spit you out.” Trust me – doubt has spit me out several times. I was renting space in a spa and was kicked out by the owner due to jealousy and had to start all over. She also stole my client base and my tanning specialist that I had paid to have trained. As I was starting over, I fell down a concrete staircase, broke my heel, fractured my shoulder, developed blood clots in my lungs and legs. Lately I have asked myself – why don’t you just call it a day and give up. I keep telling myself – so many times success is just around the corner and people gave up too soon. Thanks for the inspiration. I needed it.

  2. ts says

    I played the accompanying podcast with the article, and I was very impressed! You tell the stories very well.

    Now I will never read any of your email articles the same way ever again!

  3. says

    “The only way to face the fear, is to face it.”

    Facing our fears is one thing: doing what we can by way of preparation to minimise the possibility of fear finding its foothold is another.

    I learnt this lesson 20 years ago in what for me became the presentation from hell … when a number of factors that I could influence … taking the time to prepare and practise thoroughly … aligned perfectly with a series of factors that were imposed … tired from jet lag and (what I realised a day later was) the onset of flu … delayed, arriving less than 30 minutes to find my overhead slides damaged … hot, glaringly bright lights from TV cameras … a wasp buzzing around the lectern light … the laser pointer not working … over 500 pairs of eyes … sweat trickling down my face and back …

    I still remember the feeling of fear up on the stage of not being able to think of anything I could do to improve the situation.

    By far the greatest factor affecting my performance that day was how well (not) I planned, structured and then practised.

    By contrast, some years earlier, I had been asked literally at the last moment to give a talk to 300 people for 45 minutes. I felt no expectations on me as everyone knew I had had no warning. I had no overheads bar finding a single picture … but, and this made all the difference, a topic I knew very well.

    Knowing the topic well (so being thoroughly prepared) and without any attached thoughts of possible failure … would you believe no fear and the presentation from heaven?

    Cheers, Nic

  4. Sheila Cording says

    Yes, I suffered from anxiety. And started to compound my fears and insecurities. Then I read Hope and Help for Your Nerves, Where the author tells us it’s overconcern for self. HUH!

    Once I started thinking about the other person and their feelings-the anxiety dissipated.
    Now, I am studying acting. I go on stage. I use my butterflies as fuel, not fear.

  5. Carrie says

    Dear Sean,
    Thank you so much for the article in today’s email, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just this week, I have been doubting myself, wondering what I was possibly thinking (I’m just starting my venture) and yesterday was a difficult day. Your words are an inspiration to keep going.
    Thank you,

  6. says

    When I was reading this article on my gmail account, I was betting with myself that Sean must have recorded it, perhaps this is just the transcript as an article.

    What was the original format of this article? First you recorded it or written it?

    By the way, it is stunning and I loved it

    I have many similar moments but not in business life, in my social life I have faced very hard time and I use to run.

    But a time came when I went back to people and faced them.

    In business life I have some forum threads like that, of course I had to run. But I think it’s time to dig them up :)

  7. Siita Rivas says

    My freeze moments are with expressing myself – that’s all about organising my thoughts and – how to get to the confident, clear thinking spots more often!
    Creativity is a strength but when it comes to organising and expressing my thinking- I feel like I have some major blockages. If I could throw some caustic soda down the drain pipes and clear the blockages – I’d do myself a big favour.
    Right now I just step back up to the plate and take 2..3…4…5…6……99

    • says

      That’s quite a picture of clearing up the drains/brains :) I would suggest you read “The Talent Code”. It will show you how we put these blockages on ourselves :)

  8. Jenn Tasnim says

    Floating above myself with fear and doubt and feeling frozen, without an ability to speak, started in grade school when I was called on, for anything, even though I usually knew the answer. It has followed me into adulthood and now, as I sit, each day, trying to get words on paper for my blog or to make some kind of progress in my business or book, I get distracted. I check FB or my email (for the thirtieth time) and get nowhere. Frozen again, in fear, with my mind numb and blank. And while I’ve not yet given up, it is time to really face it, to find my voice and to just start talking (or writing) and making connections to share what I am here to do. Thanks, from the bottom of my heart for this post. It came in the most perfect time, and God willing, I will now move through this place in me that is so scared to stand up, sharing what is in my heart to give the world! Commenting here is my first small step.

    • says

      Being scared is fine. Being distracted is human. But getting back on track is pretty super-human. And heck, we have to do that every darned day! :)

      Just get going. One step at a time, Jenn :)

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