My hands were shaking, my knees were quaking, my heart pounding and my throat dry. First date? No. Worse, much worse. How did I get myself into this situation?
Let me take you back. It’s the year 1999 and I am attending college. A late bloomer, but that’s another story! I find myself preparing to give a presentation (for the life of me, I can’t remember what I was presenting on) in front of about 50 – 100 students in the auditorium.
I have a problem, fear has engulfed me. I just wish I would die, right on the spot. Maybe a heart attack? Quick and easy, hopefully relatively painless as I have heard that people can “drop dead” from heart attacks. Yes, that would work. It would certainly get me out of this situation I am in right now. I am ill prepared. Better prepared for the heart attack than for the speech, that’s for sure. I am positive everyone can tell that I am nervous. Certainly my fellow students can tell because we are all standing around back stage murmuring ” I am so nervous, I think I would rather die.”
I have my speech somewhat memorised, although I am now thinking I should have spent more time practicing. What am I saying? I should have spent ANY time practicing. I am so not prepared. Luckily I have the speech typed out in large font so I can just read it. How hard can it be? But then the fear engulfs me again. How did I get myself into this situation? Everyone is going to see my hands shaking as I read my speech. My voice is going to quiver. I don’t look good. I should have worn a dress. Yes, I am thinking of all the negatives and not thinking about my speech at all.
My name is called. F%@K, that was fast. I walk onto the stage, introduce myself ( I think) and start reading my speech hands shaking, knees knocking. Lucky thing I didn’t wear that dress. People would have been able to see my knees. Why the hell didn’t I memorise this speech because the pages are shaking so bad, I can hardly read!
I hurry through thinking the least time on stage, the better! With speech having been delivered (I think), I exit. Stage left, or right or…just exit! I can’t remember how I left the stage or what happened on stage. Did I make it through my speech? I don’t know. I do know, I am never putting myself through this again. I have just been to hell and back and it wasn’t fun!
I never did remember what I said or how I said it on stage and I never put myself in that situation again. But rather than let the fear win, I decided to educate myself ( or rather seek out others who could help) and learn how to speak in public. One of the first things I did was join a Toastmasters Club.
To my shock, I wasn’t the only one who felt this kind of overwhelming fear of public speaking. In fact it’s more the norm. People really do fear death more than they fear speaking in public. When you come right down to it, that’s just ridiculous! I also discovered the audience isn’t there to see you fail, they are there to hear you speak. They are interested in what you have to say. And they care.
I have since realised this after becoming a confident and competent speaker, I have sat through speeches delivered by people who are overwhelmed with fear. And, all I could think of when listening to them struggle is ” I want to help.” I am willing them to get the words out. I want them to succeed. I want them to feel the nervous excitement one feels when they deliver a well prepared speech. It’s exhilarating.
It has taken years and a lot of practice. One does not become a speaker overnight. But with practice, I have learned not to just control my nerves and fear, but use them to enhance my speech with nervous excitement. I have also surrounded myself with supportive people I can practice in front of. I know now that the audience can’t tell how nervous you are and if then can,they are empathetic and want you to succeed.
Some tips I have learned over the years; I practice deep breathing before speaking, this helps to calm nerves as it slows the heart rate down. I move around as much as possible to warm my muscles. More importantly, I practice my speeches and then when I think I have practiced enough, I practice some more. And, I will myself to stay in a positive head space. Public speaking has given me confidence. Not just confidence in myself, but confidence in my message.
I do make mistakes. I have become over confident and found myself in situations where I haven’t practiced enough or I make a mistake in my presentation. It’s okay. I accept imperfection and often the audience doesn’t even notice the mistake. This makes it easier to just “let it go.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous every time I speak. And, that’s okay. My internal voice that once told me, ” I am never putting myself through this again” was a voice that came from fear. But, I have embraced and mastered my fear. I now use my nervous and anxious thoughts and turn them into energy to enhance my speech. I have conquered my fear of public speaking by turning that fear into my friend!
“Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you are scared to death” Harold Wilson