I’ve delivered hundreds and hundreds of talks in my career. From tiny audiences in conference rooms to hundreds of folks in large auditoriums. From odd locations like a bowling alley in St. Louis to cool spots like a fancy theater in Tokyo.
And I loved hated every single one of those talks. The hate part is the five minutes before I go on.
- I shouldn’t have drank that coffee - I know I’m going to stutter.
- Wow, do I have to pee. There’s no way I can hold this for an hour.
- Check the zipper. Check it again. Check it again.
- Whoa, that dude in the front row looks pissed. Don’t look at him. Stop looking at him.
- Oh crap, did I remember to fix that typo on slide 11?
- Lady in row seven with the Marge Simpson hair is already asleep.
- Run, it’s not too late…
The love part is when I’m connected to the audience. I'm always amused by the voice in my head that talks to me while I’m on stage.
- Alleluia, they laughed at the right time - they’re laughing with me not at me.
- The bearded guy in row three nodded his head like I was getting through to him.
- The lady in blue who left five minutes ago came back - maybe I’m doing OK after all.
- I crushed that pause, held it until just the right second. I am a pro-fess-ion-al.
- I am jacked up, they get me, we’re in sync.
- Oh shit, it’s closing time, I don’t want to stop, I’m on a roll.
- Please don’t end…
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Back in post #31 - It’s Only Temporary, I told you about my first public speech. It was my high school graduation and all I had to do was read my written remarks. But I was terrified. I dreaded it for weeks and I mean seriously dreaded it. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
And then the day came and I gave the speech and nothing happened. I didn’t trip, or vomit, or say anything embarrassing.
But I did vow to never again speak in front of a crowd. Why would any rational human being do that to themselves if they could avoid it?
And I kept that vow for a handful of years. But, as you can tell from my opening, speaking eventually became part of my standard weekly routine. And I didn’t make that transformation via some amazing class. And I don’t have any breakthrough advice for you on how to overcome public speaking fear.
My transformation was a simple case of career survival. A job I really wanted and needed required a lot of speaking, so I sucked it up and chose speaking over unemployment. And over time my terror mellowed to just fear. And then it mellowed further to mild nervousness. And then, much to my own surprise, it did a 180 and turned into anticipation.
I wanted to speak. I looked forward to it. It fired me up.
So I still get the jitters before I go on, but once I’m into my message I love the interaction and connection with the audience. It’s kind of like a dance. I’m in the lead and it’s my job to get the audience in sync with my rhythm and message. And when I pull that off it’s exhilarating.
So if you’re terrified of public speaking I don’t have any magic ideas or secrets for you. In my mind it’s like anything else that’s challenging but worthwhile. It’s scary and it’s hard work and it sucks - until it doesn’t.
Historically my speaking revolved around our software, our market, our direction. Folks mostly cared about our feature set and what was coming next. All stuff I knew well. So I would wax poetic, do a little question and answer, and wrap it up. The talks would run an hour or two and then I'd be off to the next city or next customer.
But now I’m in a much scarier place. I’m planning to talk about this murky stuff I've been writing about. Business and personal growth and connection and alignment and trust and vulnerability.
Stuff that’s so important but also so personal and hard to get our arms around. And it’s especially hard to talk about since I’m far from being an expert - I still struggle with it all every day.
So I have the butterflies again. As I’m designing my speech the fear and insecurity are pounding me over the head.
Who the hell cares what I think?
What magic do I have to offer that’s really going to get someone to change?
Why risk the embarrassment of saying something stupid?
And this time I don’t have the extra incentive I had last time - speaking isn’t required for me to keep some job. I never have to set foot on a stage again if I don't want to.
But, for some masochistic reason, I feel the need to dive back in.
I'm hoping it's because my WHY is to learn and share and I feel compelled to help folks by sharing my stories. Or maybe it's just my ego craving attention. Or both. Or something else.
Maybe it's this quote from writer D.H. Lawrence that's pushing me forward.
“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
Whatever it is, this train is leaving the station. I'll let you know when I think I have something worth listening to. (Here's an update on my speaking.)
Until next time…
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