I can’t think of a single good reason why anyone would do that but it’s how I decided once and for all to shake my fear of public speaking and “get over myself and get on with it”.
Failing to Plan Isn’t ALWAYS Planning to Fail
I’d love to tell you my first foray onto the stage was a well documented, highly planned strategic decision taken after hours of research and reflection. But no, it wasn’t like that at all.
It seems like light years ago now. I was a newly trained and very nervous coach and like anyone entering a new industry for the first time I’d joined my professional body, The International Coach Federation (ICF), to meet others in my situation and to gain confidence and creditability.
I was at an ICF meeting one evening feeling pretty darn good about having overcome the fear to actually attend a meeting. They were having a membership drive and the President called for volunteers to speak about their ICF experience at a public meeting. I heard my brain say “Hell no, that’s not for me”.
Watch for Flying Body Parts
Then as I noticed my hand fly into the air, the rest of my body froze.
How dare this traitor raise itself without proper consultation!
Hadn’t we discussed my wretched fear of public speaking many times?
Did this hand not understand that we had spent months creating a series of particularly cunning and plausible excuses NOT TO APPEAR in public? We had blitzed the “appearing at meetings” thing and now without warning we were considering SPEAKING ….. in PUBLIC!
FEAR Was Cursing Through My Veins!
I was an experienced avoider. Could the hand not remember the couple of goes I’d had at turning up to events, actions designed to help me overcome my fear of being in public spaces with strangers. How many times did I just keep driving past the venue when the five empty parking spaces right out the front had been deemed “too far away”? I’m even ashamed to admit that I sat on a tram and cruised past the venue glancing at my watch and realising I was a few minutes late for an ICF event, therefore unable to attend because I would “disrupt the meeting”. I got off at the next stop, crossed the tracks and went back home on the next available tram.
The funny thing was when I did actually attend my first ICF meeting several people arrived late and no one blinked an eye. So much for the late theory! What’s more I was made welcome and people actually talked to me (yet another lie dispelled from my plethora of irrational fears conquered in the dark archives of the groundless and illogical doubts residing between my ears).
Now having overcome the fear of turning up, I was now sitting with my hand up in the air volunteering to speak as a novice member. WHAT WAS I THINKING????
I’d rather fall face first into a plate of cold vomit than speak in public.
Volunteer Now and Think Later
Not only was I volunteering to speak in public, I was volunteering to speak in front of my peers. Hooley Dooley, I’d done it this time! They were sure to throw tomatoes, I would surely be asked to resign my membership and I would be ostracised from the coaching community forever and would fry in hell if I ever tried to enter again.
Then I heard the Presidents dreaded words “thank you Margaret, we’d love to have you speak”.
WHAT HAD I DONE!
I can tell you there was a LOT of hand wringing in the next few weeks. Then I realised the only way to deal with the situation was to ignore it and continue to hope that the world would end before I had to do the talk.
Then it came the day before the talk and I realised Armageddon hadn’t happened and I would need to write my speech. So I sat down and started to map out how the ICF had helped me as a fledgling coach. Actually once the pen hit the paper I found it was painless and the words flowed easily because I was only writing about what I had experienced. That wasn’t so hard.
Then it came time to practice my talk. As I started to speak I stumbled over the words the first few times but I found the more I practiced the easier it became.
There seemed to be a pattern emerging here. The more action I took the easier things became…hmmmmm.
I was beginning to understand that most of the fear around this event was probably residing in my head. But I continued to practice and finally it came time to speak. I had taken a friend along as moral support and I had my best clothes on and I figured at least I’d go down looking good!
Despite my knees knocking, my palms sweating, my heart thumping and every cell in my body ready to run for the door, I got through my talk. I just read out what I’d written because I didn’t know any better. I stumbled on a couple of words and no one seemed to care and at the end everyone complimented me on my heart felt words.
I got out without one single tomato stain on my silk jacket, my membership was still in tact and what’s more, every single person in that room knew who I was and what I was about. Not only had I cleared my fear of public speaking, I’d also figured out how to successfully network all in one night.
I continue to speak in public. I never go to networking events (unless I choose to) because I know that the most power is in the front of the room.
My confidence has grown so much now that I deliver keynotes at the start of conferences, I speak to a lot of associations, I’ve had some training from some of the best in the industry and I often find myself volunteering to speak in all sorts of situations. The weirdest discovery is that I LOVE TO SPEAK and my ability to speak has brought me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.
But even now, there are rules that must never be broken. Stick with these and you will never go wrong:
1. Speak on topics you are passionate about and know a lot about
2. Know your target market and never speak outside it
3. Write your talk at least one week out from the event
4. Practice and tweak, practice and tweak
5. Make your start and finish impactful & learn them off by heart
6. Have notes with bullet points on the podium to remind you what goes in the middle (in case you forget)
7. Keep it succinct and don’t try to tell them everything you know all at once
8. Embrace the fear and use it to your advantage – the adrenalin is helping to pump you up for the talk
9. Get over yourself and make it about the audience
10. Be yourself; be real and be authentic – it works a treat!
I have realised my message is now more important than me so I just continue to get over myself and get on with it. I trust this nutty little (true) story will help you overcome your fears too.
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