When I was at TEDx Melbourne this year, one of the presenters that really stood out for me was a lady who has prosopagnosia (also known as face blindess). She highlighted through sharing her story that through vulnerability comes connection. That by sharing stories or opening up about our feelings, fears and insecurities, even if it’s a little uncomfortable, we show people more of who we truly are and through that, we give others permission to feel and do the same. That inspired me to write this article…
When I was 3 years old my mum dropped me off at 3 year old kindergarten. I was quite a clingy child and I didn’t want to go but my mum thought it would be good for me. After a couple of hours, my mum got a phone call and the lady said “Emily is hiding under the table, inside the beanbag. You”ll need to come and get her.”Needless to say I didn’t return for that year because I was too shy.
Fast forward to when I first started out in a professional workplace and I was petrified of getting up in front of people to present. I would get myself so worked up beforehand, my heart would race and beat loudly in my chest. My thoughts would be swirling around inside my head and I couldn’t focus on what I was meant to be saying. I would get a dry mouth, I would be telling myself I was going to stuff it up and it all felt terribly out of control. I would even get freaked out putting my hand up as an audience member to ask a question to a panel or speaker. It was horrible being so crippled with fear!
There was one particular experience that I can remember quite vividly too. I had to present to an auditorium of about 300 people and I was presenting to slides someone else had pulled together and without a clear objective (which I now know is an absolute no-go). I totally bombed out – at one point I was so worked up that I literally went blank and forgot what I was going to say. I must have looked like a deer in head lights!
As awful as it was though, it was this experience of being petrified and mortified that were the catalyst for some action. I decided in that moment that I was never going to let myself experience that again. I was going to push through that almost crippling fear to try and get to the other side. I wanted to be better, I wanted to get to a point where I could be comfortable getting up in front of people. I also wanted to one day be able to entertain, inspire and influence an audience.
So I told myself that I would make it my mission to get better at this. I created opportunities to present, practice and improve. As I didn’t have that many opportunities to present in my role at the time, I would present to my wider team on something I’d just learnt (a course or conference I’d been on). I did courses where I had to present and where I got videotaped. I joined Toastmasters so I’d have a regular place to be put on the spot. I put my hand up to complete my Projects (speeches) as quickly as I could and where I’d get formal feedback. I got a coach. I challenged myself to ask questions as an audience member. I studied the best speakers from TED Talks and I also analyzed any speaker I saw present, to figure out what they did well, but also what I didn’t want to emulate.
Each time I presented I’d review what I did well and what I could improve on. Slowly, talk by talk, I started to see a change. I could breathe a bit easier, I could think a bit clearer, I could remember what I was going to say. Each talk gave me a little bit more confidence, which helped me to continue to get out of my comfort zone. I also celebrated these small wins which I think made a big difference. I didn’t just focus on the things I still needed to improve on, but on what I had already achieved and the progress I had made. Better eye contact – tick! A creative opening – tick! Modulating my breathing – tick!
Over time, it got to a point where I started to get excited and not super nervous when I was going to present. Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous when I get up to present, but it’s excited nerves, not crippling, horrible, unenjoyable fear. I’m excited to share my presentation with my audience as I know I have something awesome waiting for them.
I know some people are just naturally good at speaking infront of people, but if you are also the type of person who doesn’t enjoy public speaking or who gets nervous, find opportunities to present and do it as much as you can. I know 100% from my personal experience that the more you do it, the easier it gets. I’m so glad I chose to keep putting myself out there as opposed to avoiding it, because it’s been truly life changing for me. The more you learn (about the correct structure for a presentation, how to incorporate storytelling, use of visual aids, gestures, vocal variety and all of the other tools a great public speaker uses) and put it into practice, that fear does diminish. You can cross to the other side and start enjoying it. Even better, you can start to kick ass at it! ✨✨✨✨