There’s one dragon that has plagued me for decades. The very thought of it incited fear, nausea, and knee-knocking so loud, I’m sure everyone in the tri-state area could hear it. The dragon in question is any kind of public speaking: panels, radio, TV, speeches, presentations, ad nauseum (no, really). Shoot, just calling up the local pizza place to order a pie made my tongue feel thick and inarticulate.
I’ve heard that the vast majority of people detest public speaking, but our own fears seem much realer than a generalized blanket statement about the faceless “everyone else.” Convinced my trepidation was uniquely mine, I made up countless excuses to avoid the dragon–sometimes at great cost.
The terror boiled down to a bunch of eyes on me with the possibility to stick my foot in my mouth. Because I didn’t have my presentation skills perfected, this fear of the unknown–fear of all the things that could go wrong–loomed over me. This, of course, positioned me in a catch-22 situation: how else can one perfect her public speaking skills other than by practicing them?
“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it as you go…” Paul Arden
At some point, I decided I’d had enough. Perhaps it was my pep squad whispering in my ear. Maybe I got tired of missing out on opportunities. Whatever the new-found source of courage, I started saying “yes” to speaking engagements, even if they scared the shit out of me at the time.
The crusade to slay the dragon started with Anthony Juliano who asked me to guest speak in his IPFW social media certificate class in spring of 2012. I’m sure I made a fool of myself several times before then in front of a crowd or microphone, but that was when this movement really began.
I soon discovered what I suspected all along: I rely on “uh”s and “uhm”s as verbal pauses and talk entirely way too fast when I am nervous. But hey, no one’s perfect, right? I made a mental note to slow down my speech when speaking to others during nerve-wracking situations (I deliberately chose not to focus on both pace and verbal pauses because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself). Fine. Good.
Then something magical happened when I was invited to speak at Social Media Breakfast Fort Wayne: I discovered the ease of being on a discussion panel. This remains my preferred method of public speaking–especially if I’m on a panel with smart people I trust, which was the case at SMBFW. As we recapped 2012 Blog Indiana (now Mixwest), the conversation among panelists flowed effortlessly. And the panel format afforded me time to formulate my answers, leading to fewer verbal pauses. Progress!
In February of 2013, I faced my most daunting foe yet: public radio. You’d think radio would be easier. It’s just you, some headphones, and a microphone. Visions of “Schweddy balls… It’s good times… good times…” filled my head in the days leading up to the gig. But once in the studio, I could feel that microphone taunting me. I could hear my own voice in my headphones on a slight delay, like that of a stranger ready to betray me at any moment. Fortunately, the NIPR Midday Matters crew were patient with me, and my show cohort Kevin Mullett was kind. I could hear the fear quivering in my voice, but others said it was stellar. I must have done something right since they asked me back in April.
And in about a week, I’m keynoting the Chamber’s Media and Marketing Summit. Key. Noting. If you would have told me two years ago, “Hey, you’re going to keynote this big deal marketing summit one of these days!” I would have thought you were nuts. Yet here we are. And writing about it, I’m wondering if I’m nuts.
The truth is very few people really enjoy public speaking. It’s something you just sort of grow into, if you allow yourself to. And you can roll your eyes all you want (like I did) when people say that the only way to get better is to actually do it, but it’s true. Eventually, you get to a point where you’re kind of ok with it, which turns into complacent comfort, which leads to being rather good (see my aforementioned friends Anthony and Kevin for examples of really good public speakers). You learn to roll with the punches, concede that you won’t have all the answers on the spot, and get comfortable in your own skin. And, as Arden so eloquently put it above, you go with what you’ve got and fix it along the way.
Then you can stare that dragon in the eye, stick your tongue out with a little “neener neener,” and flash your sword as you take the podium.
For the record, I still hate calling in an order for pizza.