There's normal public speaking nerves and then there's I'm going to dissolve into a million pieces when I get on stage, there's sparkles in my vision, and I can't stop shaking nerves.
The latter is how I feel when I get a panic attack in most situations, but the pinnacle of fear is the dreaded speaking to the public. I've had to do it my entire life—from reciting a poem about a fox in kindergarten to reading out my creative non-fiction thesis for my Bachelor's degree.
For awhile I told myself to accept this fear and avoid it at all costs. It's not worth it. Who cares if I get a book published? There's no way I'm getting up in front of an audience and reading it aloud. I don't care if it hurts sales, I'm not doing it.
(Okay I'm totally jumping the gun.)
With this new pro-activeness of going off my medicine and challenging myself, I know I needed to practice public speaking. I'm lucky that my university has an Institute for Academic Development which offers seminars to post-graduate students throughout the year to help us practice a range of things from presenting our thesis, to writer's block, to researching skills.
Presenting Made Easy
There's a course called "Presenting Made Easy - Presentation Techniques". Yes, I was nervous to sign up but I did and, I won't lie, when I accidentally missed it, I was relieved. I waited 2 months for the next session and I was cool as a fucking cucumber when I got there. The first 2 hours were learning techniques and warm-up. The last hour was an exercise that involved presenting an introduction and conclusion about a random topic in front of the class. Once the presentations began, my armpits were wet and I was shaking profusely.
I couldn't believe how my body reacted to a 1 minute talk in front of 11 people. What the hell?!
I left the class eager to take the second session, which included delivering a 5-minute presentation.
Presenting Made Easy - Level 2
No joke, I was a fucking wreck the month before this class. Yes, I had 4 weeks before this 3 hour class and I was letting it control my daily life. The anxiety was so bad that I first got dismissive, thinking, "Eh this is a waste of my time to make a presentation when I could be working on my PhD. I don't really need to practice my presentation skills right now. I can do that later on. It's okay if I drop out of the session."
Then it moved to annoyance. "This is a waste of my time. I don't want to be anxious for the next 4 weeks. I have a novel to finish, I don't have time to write and practice a stupid presentation for no reason!"
Because I like validation for my decisions, I spoke to my boyfriend about this and he questioned me and questioned me about my decision to drop out. He wouldn't stop asking questions until I finally admitted it to myself that I was just afraid. "Fuck, I have to do this," I thought.
Practice Makes .... You Know The Phrase
I practiced constantly the two weeks coming up to the class. Every night, I'd run through the Powerpoin I'd made, first with note-cards, and then until I could do it by memory. I timed myself, I filmed myself, and watched it back. When the day came, I didn't have to practice because I had it down so perfectly that it was a part of me.
If I could say I have one regret, it would be that I opted to go first. I "got it over with" so I didn't have to suffer with anxiety for the rest of the class. The exercise of sitting with my anxiety is important and it's something I also need to practice. I was so nervous beforehand that I gave myself this "crutch" which eased the anxiety off.
With the practice of what I would say, how fast I would talk, and how I'd stand, I killed it! My peers were impressed by my performance and I got a lot of positive feedback.
I left the class feeling great, but also feeling like I've merely scratched the surface of this public speaking fear. Okay I know I can do well in a group when I've got practice, but what about going off-the-cuff? What about a larger audience? What about Q&As? What about sitting for an hour or two waiting to get up on stage and trying to focus on other presenters instead of freaking out?
I'm terrified but also excited to continue practicing my public speaking. It's one of those things you dread doing but when it's over, you're glad you did it. Like a yoga class. Ha, I might be biased with that? I'm hoping I'll enjoy the process as much as the result, just like I do with weightlifting.
What fears have you overcome recently?
Comment below, I'd love to hear. If you need help overcoming a fear, also comment below and I'd love to give you advice. :)