I spoke at something this week without the parachute of speaking notes.
When I began public speaking as part of my work a few years ago, I’d be sick with nerves from the moment I booked the talk into my diary. I’d have every single word written out in 14 point font – an enormous pile of papers that must have terrified the daylights out of the audience as they saw me stagger to the lectern under its weight, paranoid that I had spinach stuck in my teeth…
Without a huge pile of notes to grip onto like the handle bars on a roller coaster, I’d be naked on stage. Well, intellectually naked – which let me tell you, for a public-speaking-phobe, is right up there with the idea of being ‘naked’ naked (although possibly less confronting for the audience).
Speaking of the audience – it’s not like I didn’t engage with them. I did. Sometimes I glanced up. Occasionally I’d notice someone’s shoe. Sometimes I’d gaze briefly at a knee – at which I might even smile, if the knee looked friendly (although usually this occurred at the wrong place in the talk – a point at which a poignant and reflective pause would have delivered more punch).
Then, having done their duty, my eyes would scurry back to the notes and burrow in for the long haul, while I ripped through the talk at warp speed. And let’s not discuss my early radio interviews…
Fast forward to this week. No notes. Lots of eye contact. Smiling in all the right places and at the right body parts.
Next challenge? The lack of notes has opened the gate for an irritating phrase to barge in try to take over the talk. What on earth? I didn’t realise I had this snippet on continuous repeat until I caught it stampeding out of my mouth for about the four hundredth time, so that’s the next obstacle – and a relatively easy one to hurdle.
Nerves, on a scale of one to ten (where formerly they were pushing 50)? About one or two – causing just enough excitement to stimulate the adrenaline rush that makes speaking fun.
I love it. Bring it on, and on, and on! I can’t get enough of this thing!
Gail Sheehy said that ‘if we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.’ So. True.
To kick this boogie man that was public speaking, I surrendered that security over and over and over again until, one day, being on stage felt a tiny bit less awful, then a schmidge more comfortable, and now – like home.
The only way to beat a fear is to confront it head on, as many times as it takes. The easier thing would be to run away – except that the fear will chase after you and find you and taunt you like a school bully while you cower in the toilets.
Confidence only shows up when we need it. We don’t need confidence to lie on the couch and think, ‘I can’t do that thing…’ (speak in public, jump off a bungee platform, deal with a spider). We need confidence at the precise moment that we’re stepping on that stage, or off that platform, or on that spider (or near it, with a jar, if you’re the Lara Croft of creepy crawlies).
When my daughter started pre-school, she was barnacled to my ankle every morning for weeks. Every morning I dragged her back to face it. Every morning there were tears (hers and mine).
Then, one day, there were no tears and just the clinginess. The next day, she held my hand instead of my leg. The next week – no hands!
Not only was the fear gone, but she’d fallen madly in love with being at school. She’s still infatuated – even at the ‘drop-me-a-block-away’ stage, and sometimes I watch as she ever-so-coolly sashays into the school yard with her BFFs and her meticulously-presented assignments and I think, ‘is that the same girl?’
Is there a scary thing that you would love to have the confidence to sashay up to, right now? And, if you had that confidence, what difference would it bring to your life?
Still running away? Throw your notes in the air, stand naked on stage and show that bully who’s boss…
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