One of my favorite movies stars Bill Murray and is titled, “What About Bob”. It tells the story of a man who is riddled with phobias. He is told to take “Baby Steps” as an approach to problem solving. The movie is hilarious, but actually rings true for many facing difficulties in certain areas of their lives. I actually used my version of Baby Steps to resolve one of the most difficult problems I faced during my career; Public Speaking.
I am a writer. Writing is how I best express my thoughts. It is also a method by which I can analyze, review and edit, if necessary, until the outcome is as close to perfect as I can get it. Public Speaking does not allow this luxury. I must confess my terror of Public Speaking began at having to introduce myself at meetings, followed me as I began to host them and finally stood proudly by my side, ready to pounce as I began speaking at events. Whenever possible, I would give that responsibility to someone else who enjoyed the art. Finally, I made up my mind that this was just not acceptable and set out to conquer my fear.
Now those who profess to know me well will say, “Girl, you are as cool as a cucumber”. Here is what they do not see. My heart is racing. Anxiety is practically at its peak. My head is beginning to throb and I actually feel as though I might faint. At this point there are two things that I know for sure. 1) I am not going to die and 2) soon someone is going to call my name and expect me to respond in some manner. Here is how I got through.
– In small settings. I got to know the people in the room prior to the start of the meeting. I introduced myself, found out a little about them and why they were there. Forming a rapport with them took away that feeling of having strangers staring at me.
– Made sure I knew my subject matter. If there was a gray area or something I was not fully versed on, I made sure that there was someone with expertise in the room that could expand on the conversation or address the issue if a question came up that I could not answer. I made sure that I not only knew my subject, but also tried to think about what questions might be asked after relaying information to my audience.
– Include my audience in the conversation. Audience participation can be lots of fun. It also takes some of the pressure off the speaker and is an excellent ice-breaker.
– Told myself it was okay not to know all the answers. We could all write books on the things we do not know. The answer is to tell the person asking the question that you don’t know but if they would be so kind as to leave their information, you will get back with them with an answer……..Be sure to follow up.
– Relax. I always have some notes to refer to or depending on the setting a full speech that I could occasionally look down at to refresh or follow my train of thought.
Now, I can’t say that the feelings of anxiety and fear were immediately alleviated, but they did gradually decrease over time. Public Speaking is an art and one that is definitely not on my top list of favorite things. I would even go as far as to say it falls somewhere in the area of getting shots or catching the flu. However, I find that I do not mind it as much as I use to. Most importantly, I also realize that I would not be standing in front of an audience unless what I had to say was important enough for them to come out to hear and I owe them my best. I bow to those of you that have mastered the art and for those who are trying, don’t give up, baby steps lead to walking, walking leads to running and running leads to endless possibilities.