I was just seventeen years old when I took my place on the stage behind the lectern. I could feel the heat rising in my body, slowly at first, then suddenly it was like I was plunged into a hot dunk tank of fear and anxiety. My heart was pumping out of my chest and I was certain the thump, thump, thump was being amplified through the microphone. Expectations and pressure wrapped around my neck so tight I could hardly breathe. It all happened so fast. I glanced at the sea of peers and parents. They were all staring at me. I instantly felt exposed, judged, and paralyzed. I clung to the words on the page in front of me and the rest of my speech is a blur.
When I was learning to lead from the front of the room, I got lots of advice. Not all of it was good. Maybe you’ve heard this before: Look at the back wall instead of the audience. While it is a strategy, it’s catering to your fear.
Each time you turn away at the height of your fear you perpetuate it and make it impossible to conquer.
I’d rather give advice that has you confronting your fear instead of catering to it!
Avoiding eye contact can cause the audience to question your intentions. They might think you are nervous, unprepared, or even disingenuous. But most of the time, it creates the impression that you are not confident, and if you are not confident in what you’re saying, how can the audience be comfortable enough with your material to absorb it, and confident enough themselves to accept it?
Not only that, but you sacrifice connection with your audience when you squirm to avoid looking at them and connection is the key to getting your message across! If you don’t connect with your audience you’ve just wasted your time and theirs and your efforts were futile.
Looking someone in the eyes is an act of intimacy, connection, and acknowledgment. For a public speaker, making eye contact means you are confident. It reassures your audience of your credibility. Seeing the audience means you’ll have to come out from hiding. You’ll have to be seen and that is exposure of the most vulnerable kind.
But, at last, the truth is that the audience already sees you, whether you are looking at them or not; the question is: what will they see when they look at you? Doubt, fear, and uncertainty? Or confidence, strength, and assurance? Which would you rather exude in front of your audience? You never get a second chance to make a first impression, either. So, you must start strong, stay strong, and finish strong.
Your strength is expressed in your eye contact. If you find ways to avoid your audience you will never develop the relationship you need to be influential, impactful, and get your message across.
So DO NOT take the stage trying to avoid being seen. Instead, accept that it is a privilege to be at the front of the room. You are powerful and you do good work. Own yourself; own the room; own the material, and most importantly: own the moment. You got this!
I encounter it all the time. The look of concern and apprehension as my client confesses to me that they are an introvert. Their eyes tell me – “I’m sorry. This isn’t going to be easy. I sure hope you are up for the challenge.” They go on to express all their fears regarding speaking to groups and how they’ve been avoiding the traumatic experience that is sure to ensue. They are afraid they won’t be any good, but their gut is telling them that if they don’t take action, they will regret it.
While inclined to speak less on average, I am pleased to dispel the myth that introverts can’t be good at speaking to audiences. I have been witness to incredible speakers who captivate me from the beginning, engage me throughout and leave me inspired to act. In talking with these amazing speakers, they openly admit their introverted status. (Usually with the caveat that they will need to retire to their hotel room as soon as possible after their gig to recharge.)
Here are the Top 5 Reasons Introverts Are Great Public Speakers
1.They won’t speak to an audience unless they have something of value to pass along.
What an introvert has to say must be more important or more valuable than the discomfort they will have to go through to share it. This means they spend the time to contemplate why their message matters. By the time they take the stage there is a damn good reason for it.
2.They enjoy the thoughtful, quiet space and time needed to prepare for a presentation.
Let’s face it. Introverts like being alone because it refuels them. The process of preparing a great presentation requires alone time. The writing, researching, and organizing are all providing them with energy. It’s fun for them and the audience benefits.
3.They are succinct and purposeful with their word choice.
When an introvert is ready to deliver a presentation, they have completely contemplated every which way the topic could be communicated. They’ve thought of the pitfalls, the advantages and everything in between. They are deliberate and have thought through the talk from start to finish leaving nothing to chance.
4.Their passion comes from a deep meaningful place.
Introverts don’t speak for the lime light or the attention. They are driven by passion, responsibility, or purpose. They are reflective and work hard to create a great presentation. They are open to feedback and interested in the audience’s experience. They are not speaking for themselves. They are sharing a message the audience needs to hear.
5.The audience trusts them because they know their shit.
Introverts loath small talk. They are great listeners and observers. When they communicate, they like to communicate truth. They have evidence to back up their claims and they can site the source. They don’t make assumptions. They test theories and measure outcomes. They take their status of expert seriously. They won’t let something they say lead you astray.
So, if you are inclined to recharge in solitude be assured you have what it takes to be great at public speaking. You are uniquely qualified to make a powerful impact at the front of the room.
There is no mystery as to why we avoid leading at the front of the room at all costs. It can be completely terrifying and anxiety producing. In fact, I personally struggled and squirmed at the mere mention of having to speak to groups early in my career. It’s quite unnatural to be placed in front of a group of people with the responsibility of presenting something worthwhile. It’s enough to shake even the most confident leaders in their boots. But being a leader means you must, at some point, stand out or stand up and share with others what direction you’re headed. Being a leader means you take the risk to make an impact. It means contributing in only the way you can and making a difference.
If you had told me ten years ago that I would be speaking and teaching about the importance of speaking I would’ve laughed you out of the room. There wasn’t a bone in my body that desired the attention, the judgement, or the responsibility that comes with learning the craft. My life however, has not been a linear match making of common sense. It’s been an adventure full of mishaps, mistakes, and miscalculations. I no longer make predictions about what I will or won’t do. I’ve learned that life will continue to dare me to lean into discomfort.
It’s easy to think the person at the front of the room has found a way to rid themselves of fear. The truth is, they’ve learned how to harness it. Speaking to an audience requires bravery, but being brave doesn't mean there is an absence of fear. Being brave means noticing the fear and pushing through it. Once you know what it feels like to act in the face of fear, nerves, and anxiety it becomes familiar. As you get more familiar with the feelings you'll no longer see it as a threat, but rather an old friend that shows up to remind you this is something you care about. Eventually, the things that take great courage today will become more comfortable and no longer require such bravery.
Deciding to do what it takes to stand at the front of the room with all those eyes staring back at you is stepping into complete vulnerability and takes a lot of courage. It is for this reason that speaking will always be a love of mine. It has shown me sides of myself I didn’t know existed. It has shaped me into a leader I never knew was possible. Speaking to audiences has made me susceptible to the judgment and criticism of others as well as myself. It has taught me self-compassion and strengthened my resilience. It has forced me to learn my truth and speak it with no apologies. Speaking has taught me to STAND TALL. When I speak to audiences I feel life course through my veins in a way I’ve never been able to duplicate. Speaking is living for me and my hope is that you get to experience speaking in the same way.
I believe in connections. Recently, as a TED Talk filled my earbuds with the voice of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I was introduced to the concept of coming home. She spoke of the overwhelming success she experienced after publishing her book Eat, Pray, Love and how it felt nothing would ever top that, or compete with it. She felt there was no place to go and knew any writing she did after that would be scrutinized and most assuredly fail. It haunted her, and she couldn’t see her way past it. She found herself searching for a safe place to find herself again. For her, it was her writing that took her ‘home’ to herself. She spoke of her writing being her retreat. It was where she reconnected with herself. And that’s what moved her forward from the hopeless place she was stuck.
I stumbled on this concept again reading Sara Bareillis’s book ‘It Sounds Like Me’. She is a musician, singer, and song writer. She shares in her book about her year long study abroad and how utterly lonely and lost she felt at one point. Sara fell to her knees and asked God to show her a place that resembled home. Soon after she called her Dad in desperation, sobbing and pleading with him to send her keyboard. It didn’t occur to her until then that home meant writing and singing and that’s what she needed to do to come back to herself.
We leave home when we are young adults and venture into the world to make a space for ourselves. For some of us it takes years to learn that all we’re really searching for is a place to call home. Knowing we can’t go back to where we came from when we were kids. It wouldn’t be the same. I find myself wondering if that’s what’s wrong with the world today. Maybe we are all just looking for a place to call home. A place we can retreat to when we are disconnected from ourselves. Only we don’t realize it, and we ping pong from place to place only getting further from who we are meant to be. Some never find it. Some are destined to know from an early age and can recognize it despite outside pressures. (the lucky ones)
Home is a place inside of one’s self, protected from the pressures of expectation. It’s a place you go to feel safe and accepted and complete. It’s a soft space absent the judgement of self and others. It’s where you go when you need to be still and steady yourself from despair, ridicule, and abandonment. It’s a place to be vulnerable and notice what is. Blame and guilt don’t live in the quiet restful retreat. Home is where you soak in the warmth of now and cleanse the need to choose or be indecisive. Home is where peace wraps around you soothing your soul while you sit still. It’s where you can breathe in and out fully. You can show up as you are, scars and all. You can visit as much as you like, and you leave feeling ready and strong.
Where is home for you? I’m not sure I’ve fully found it for myself. At times I find it in nature. Nature never judges me and allows space for me to be, but I don’t go often enough. I find home in writing, but I resist it. I’ve never been taught how to write and only go to it when I’m touched at a soul level. I find home in my running, when I’ve gotten in shape enough to allow myself to explore the depths of my mind. The cadence of my breath and my feet in motion take me to a place I feel is home. Each of us has a place to call home, but we aren’t always open to its invitation. It comes to us in our dark moments. It whispers to us when we’re alone. We have to be willing to go to it. We have to be willing to be rescued from ourselves.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_success_failure_and_the_drive_to_keep_creating
Sara Bareilles’s Book
Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song
You say you are comfortable. You say you are content. You say you deal with the troubles of the day by looking the other way. You pride yourself in avoidance, but something doesn’t sound right. I don’t hear any fight in your voice. I don’t hear disgust. There is no disappointment. It’s all been washed away with your uncanny ability to ‘deal with it’. You say you are neutral. You don’t care. It no longer bothers you. You’ve lost interest.
I say your spirit is broken. I say you’ve shut down. I say you’ve sacrificed your vitality. Your creativity and your smile sit on a shelf. You say you’re o.k. with it, but I know you better than that. I know your light is snuffed out. I know you are sitting, waiting and watching while your life passes you by. I know you have something powerful in you. I know it wants to show itself. I’ve seen glimpses of it.
I know life is weighing you down. You can’t see your way out. I know you think the consequences of taking a stand are too great. I know you are frightened. I know you are paralyzed. I know you hold tight to what ‘is’ because what ‘could be’ terrorizes you. I am on the other side. I know what it takes to dig deep, unearth hidden strength, and let it see the light of day. I have felt the power rise in me and I recognize it in you. I can hear its whisper. It’s desperation to be let free. I know the resistance that holds it back. I know the fear that grips tight with no give. I have felt the burden of releasing the strength despite the strangle hold of fear. I am not stronger, or more courageous, or willful than you. What makes us different is one decision you haven’t made yet. The decision to live a full life.
I want to breathe while I have lungs to take in the cool country air. I want to explore while I have eyes capable of seeing the hues of the rainbow. I want to experience while I have hands to welcome in the expansive joys life has to offer. I want to love while I have the capacity to give all of myself. I want to stand while I have strength in my body. I want to live my life with all that means. The struggle, the torment, the fight, as well as the beauty, the laughter, and the dance. In your effort to preserve your comfort you sacrifice a life fully lived. We are not that different, you and I.
That itchy restlessness creeps into your mind and slowly wraps around your body until you need to move. You wiggle and twitch and that’s not enough. You know a bold move is required. The problem is you aren’t sure where you are going. How will you ever make a confident move if you aren’t sure what you want and what the next step should be? The only thing you are sure of is sitting still isn’t working. Staying put is becoming more uncomfortable than making a change. You’re trapped and, yet you realize you have choice. The choice is what paralyzes you. So, you pause again. This is tension. It's neither good nor bad and yet it’s extremely uncomfortable. Tension is our intuition’s way of alerting our mind and body that change is needed. It’s the soul’s way of speaking up. Often tension slithers in when you should be happy. You have everything you worked hard for and you have no huge complaints. You can’t point to a single broken or convincing reason to make a move. You’re left questioning because your mind overrides your spirit. Your mind says, It’s not that bad. It says, I have a lot of reasons to be grateful. It says, I’d be a fool to make a move when all is going well.
I found myself sitting across from a woman today who was looking for a life coach. I was one of a few coaches she would be meeting with before deciding who was the best fit. I asked her one of the first questions anyone in my position might ask. “What makes you interested in coaching?” She looked back at me with desperate eyes and said she didn’t know exactly. She went on to explain how she’s been feeling. She stumbled over her words as if this was the first time she untangled what she already knew. She shared with me when it started and how it won’t go away. She is looking for answers to a question that hasn’t been formed yet. This is tension.
Tension makes us seek. In the quiet moments tension confronts us like a nagging child. Those that choose to listen to their soul’s desires are the brave ones. They are the ones that dare to do more. They hear the calling. They don’t judge, they merely listen. Tension doesn’t go away. It can be snuffed out with busyness and drama. It can be avoided with blame and irritability. If ignored it shows up as frustration, disappointment, regret, anger, and sadness. The cost is great. These feelings will flow through your body like a poison until everything you do is a restricted effort shadowed by fear. The swirling mess of negativity will make it nearly impossible for you to hear what you are meant to do.
Tension is a feeling. It shows up and gets stronger over time. It creates a divide between what is and what must be. It’s what leads a doctor to leave a successful practice, pack up and move to a llama farm in Missouri. It’s what makes a high-powered attorney quit his job to drive taxi. It’s the internal nudge you get when you realize you are meant for more in this lifetime. When you recognize it for what it is and listen to what it calls you to do amazing exploration will ensue. Your life is meant to be rich and full and lived. Your soul knows that. Now let your mind and body follow.
If you’ve seen a typical business presentation you’ve undoubtedly witnessed a phenomenon I like to call ‘The Talking Dead’. You’ll have to look really close to find the life behind the presenter’s eyes and if they are really good you won’t see or hear any vital signs. I’m not sure where this all started. Maybe at some point in history, someone with great credibility stood at the front of the room and bored the pants off the audience while aspiring business leaders watched and thought to themselves, “If I pretend I don’t care, and show no signs of life I can deliver presentations too!” It multiplied and now we have boring, lifeless, information filled presentations.
First, the goal of any presentation is to get a message to the audience. The best way to do that is to make a connection. There are many ways to make a connection, and a rather large one is with your voice. Your voice. Not a lifeless, monotone, business voice. Not a replication of someone else’s or even an exaggerated version of your own.
A term used by vocalists, ‘Vocal Authenticity’. Singers know when they get on stage to perform they will be their most powerful when they use their own voice. They find it through experimentation, studying other artists, and connecting at a heart level with their words. It takes time for a new vocal artist to develop vocal authenticity. You’ll be relieved to know I’m not suggesting you stand at the front of the room and belt out some notes to become a better presenter. Instead, consider these three truths:
When you withhold the life from your voice you withhold your humanity and you sacrifice connection.
Pay attention to your voice when you speak with your best friend, spouse or parent. When you’re in conversation with someone you hold in high regard you instinctively express yourself using your voice. You might lower it when you are telling a secret or get really animated as you add drama to your story. As humans, we are great at expressing ourselves through story. The next time you engage in a juicy conversation take notice of yourself. The voice you bring to that conversation is the voice you’ll want to bring to the front of the room. The one where you talk with your hands, get your facial expressions involved, and naturally bring people along with you. You are interesting. You are relevant. You have what it takes. When you are present minded and sharing a message the way you do you’re sharing a piece of you. Your audience appreciates you and what you have to offer.
When you align your words, your actions, and your voice you build trust.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m excited to be here today…’ and they look anything but excited. In fact, they look like they were forced at gun point to show up. Usually those words come out at the beginning of a presentation. It could be the first indication that the speaker can’t be trusted. If what you are saying is not being expressed in your tone and your body language your audience is left to wonder why? They may interpret this incongruence as nerves, but if they can’t see other signs of anxiety they may decide you are lying. You set your audience up to be skeptical and challenge what comes out of your mouth. This is typically an unintended consequence of holding back. One of my clients described the eleven second walk to the front of the room as if she was walking the plank and soon to be plunging to her death. I don’t take this lightly. The flood of energy and emotions that rise up is enough to create a foggy, frantic brain and leave us wanting to collapse or run away. The best way to get back to you and regain some composure is to breathe. When that doesn’t work breathe some more. Rest assured I am not asking you to act or be someone else. I’m not suggesting you be perfect. I’m asking you to bring your whole self to the front of the room and that means your voice too. You can do this.
Your voice is an extension of your beliefs.
It’s important to know what you believe about your audience, your content, and yourself when it comes to using your voice. I’ve been in an audience as the speaker decided to share her tips and tricks for being better, but in doing so she used a tone just like my mother did when she was mad at me. She looked disappointed at times and shared common pitfalls with us as if we were idiots. I walked away from that presentation feeling worse about myself for having listened to the speaker. I don’t think this was her intent, but her beliefs about the audience were coming out in her tone, pitch, and words. Be sure to get clear on your beliefs before you present because they drive your thoughts which drive your actions at the front of the room.
We all get pissed off. (mad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, fired up, irritated – call it what you want.) We all get pissed off, some of us more than others. I’ve recently been inspired by all of the jerks being jerks to jerks in this world and feel an overwhelming need to extend my thoughts beyond my friends. I didn’t have a perfect childhood, but I do remember hearing this a thousand times.
“Nobody can make you feel anything, you do it to yourself.” My Mom
I assumed everyone was told this when they were young, but I’m finding out that very few have ever been confronted with this concept. It’s incredibly sobering to really understand it. You aren’t pissed off because someone did something terrible to you. You aren’t pissed off because something didn’t go your way. You are pissed off because you choose to be. You are in charge of what goes on inside that head of yours just like everyone else. Nobody is doing a mind control trick on you and making you feel what you feel. Sure, there are circumstances, experiences, people, cultural influences etc. affecting you, but you are the one interpreting all of it and deciding.
What if instead of being victims to our feelings and letting them control us we could rise above them? What if the next time someone really irritated you, you kept your cool and didn’t freak out? What if the next time your day blows up in your face and you want to punish everyone and everything for getting in your way you could shake it off and go with the flow? What if you could take responsibility for the way you feel and the way you respond and the decisions you make? What if you could really own those feelings and the way you operate in this world? I’m asking you. Not the person that pissed you off. Not the boss you hate or the husband you are miserable with, or the driver who cut you off. I’m asking you what would it be like if you owned you and the thoughts you're having, the beliefs you create, and the actions you carry out?
What if we evolved our thinking to understand these negative feelings as a signal for reflection? And when we get mad and want to punch a wall, we instead take a minute to think. Think about the reason this pisses you off. Think about what you want in this scenario beyond instant relief for your feelings. What if we took a moment to understand where this reaches within ourselves? Just a minute to wonder why memories of the past are surfacing. Some time to think about the fact that we have options. Some time to think about the power we have within to stand up for what’s right and not succumb to choosing what’s wrong. What if all those feelings that light a fire inside of us were really our chance to understand what we really need right now? What if we could honor our values even in the heat of the moment? What if we could choose to see the big picture and let our vision of what we stand for guide us in the here and now? I think it’s possible. No, I know it’s possible.
Figure out what you are protecting. Find out what matters to you. Understand what you believe and what you stand for. Consider the big picture. Know what you want in life. If you take a minute to contemplate any of this you’ll separate yourself from the heat of the moment enough to regain composure. You’ll decide what really matters and respond with thoughtful action. If you can’t answer any of the big questions I’ve thrown out here, you have no business reacting to anything. You hold tight until you get it figured out. You pause for however long it takes. You step away or aside or take a walk or go to the bathroom. Figure it out because the way you react or respond becomes a chain reaction in this world. The way you operate affects everyone else. I want to belong to a world that can take a minute to think.
Life coaching is more than a profession. It’s a way of ‘being’ with another person while they travel inward for answers to life’s biggest questions. It’s about holding space for what is needed. In this sacred space, the client can be truthful, authentic, and aware. It’s unlike any other relationship because the coach invites their client to step off the hamster wheel of life and into a planetarium where they can observe, make connections, and begin to intentionally design a meaningful existence. To say the least, life coaching is powerful and transformative.
My training at Learning Journeys International Center of Coaching started with a certification as a Life Coach Practitioner, followed by the Mastery program and eventually a specialized Narrative Coaching program. I guess you could say I’m hooked. Not long ago, it occurred to me that many of the competencies required to make a great life coach have contributed immensely to making me a better and more confident speaker. Below is a list of five competencies and how they affect my approach to speaking and training.
I trust my audience
As a Life Coach, I am trained to trust my client to have the answers. I know my client is the expert of their lives. I believe my clients is resourceful and capable. It’s my role to ask powerful questions and source their brilliance. I don’t assume to know what’s best. I don’t lead or manipulate for my own gain or agenda. I know this empowers my client to find answers within, make decisions, and lead self.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I believe my audience is brilliant. Certainly, the whole audience is smarter than me. When I’m delivering a presentation, I like to uncover what my audience is thinking, what they know, and what they struggle to understand. This requires me to believe the audience is smart and capable and will answer and engage. I craft each of my presentations with the intention of learning about where my audience is in the present moment. I invite them to share, learn, and experience my message. We have one opportunity to come together and there is power in that. This mentality allows me to be flexible and in service of my audience. I love having my audience work together to answer tough questions. They become active participants experiencing rather than detached and passive. It makes me approachable, relatable, and accessible to them.
I trust myself
As a Life coach, I need to trust that I will know what is needed in the moment. I trust that I will be able to ask appropriate and powerful questions and let go of judgement. What is real for my client is where I need to start.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I practice my presentations and do my best to be prepared, but as I head to the front of the room I say a little prayer. It goes like this, “Please provide me with the right words as I need them.” It’s my way of letting go of all that I had control over in exchange for dancing in the moment. There is great freedom in this thought process which promotes confidence in the heat of the moment.
I am authentic
As a Life Coach, I have learned to embrace my values and my strengths. I’ve also had the opportunity to discover my faults or those things that make me absolutely human. Sometimes all I can do is laugh at those parts because there is nothing else I can do and they are what make me a whole person. I’ve learned that authenticity breeds authenticity and when I step into my wholeness (weaknesses, faults and all) I am able to truly love myself.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I bring my whole self to the front of the room. I don’t feel vulnerable and exposed like I used to because ultimately, I love me. I hope my audience senses this permission to be human and this willingness to be real. There really is no other way to be in the world. No more hiding, trying to be perfect, and constantly feeling like you can’t measure up. It’s time to get real and I show my audience what that looks like each time I go on stage. They will meet the same Sara Krisher off stage and there won’t be any guess work about who I really am.
I am curious
As a Life Coach, I know that curiosity is essential to establishing a coaching relationship. I ask powerful questions I don’t know the answer to in hopes that my client will reach deep to pull out truth. Being curious is a conduit for building trust and abandoning judgement.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I am curious from the moment I step out of my car and walk up to the building. There is nothing better to bring me to the present, calm my nerves, and get me out of my head. I pay attention to my surroundings. I am curious about my audience and I can tap into their energy. It allows me to meet them where they’re at before I launch into my presentation. It allows me to be flexible in the moment and serve them.
I am a great listener
As a Life Coach, I listen for what is being said and what is not being said. I listen for beliefs, values, mindset, habits, and energy. I know we express ourselves in verbal and nonverbal ways and I illuminate aspects of both so my client can derive understanding of self.
As a Speaker and Trainer, I use listening skills with my audience much like I do with a coaching client. If I am listening I can hear what my audience is experiencing while they are with me. I listen for simple things like the room is freezing and making it difficult for my audience to focus, or the microphone isn’t loud enough for those in the back of the room. I listen for more complex things like frustration, fear, and disappointment. My audience may not come out and say they are frustrated, but if I’m paying attention I can hear a struggle with an activity. Often, I’m asking my audience to participate in getting out of their comfort zone which is met with apprehension. When I can hear the signs, I can respond. I can share an alternate or helpful perspective. I can invite them to experiment and reward them with appreciation. When I listen, I connect more deeply and they participate more fully.
I recently took a trip to Warsaw, Poland. In the month leading up to the trip I did the best I could to prepare myself. I packed a huge bag as well as a carry on. I had my adapter for my hair dryer and phone. I called all my credit card companies in advance to let them know I would be in Poland. I had music, audio books, magazines, and a book to keep me busy on the long flight. I even downloaded and app to learn to speak polish.
I stepped on to the plane that day feeling as prepared as I could be for this trip across the Atlantic. I describe myself as cautiously confident. Stepping foot on foreign ground just a few hours later; however, was a shock to my system. I wasn’t prepared at all. I was no longer able to read words plastered all over the airport walls. I was no longer able to hear familiar words and understand the language. I felt disoriented and uncomfortable. Somehow, I was able to get into a taxi and get to my hotel, but even spending money was confusing. Everything I took for granted every day was now a complete cluster. My anxiety was off the charts and I felt completely vulnerable. I told myself I would never do this again. I would never put myself in such an incredibly uncomfortable position.
Now, back at home I find myself reflecting on my travel experience. That may have been the first time I’ve traveled out of the United States, but it wasn’t the first time I felt completely vulnerable, exposed and unprepared. I have, on many occasions felt completely prepared to give a speech, but taking the deliberate steps to the front of the room triggered an enormous flood of anxiety. My body and mind went haywire and that was enough to prove to me that all I had prepared for meant nothing at all. At the front of the room, energy from the audience hit my body like a lightning bolt. Eyes stare through me with anticipation. In an instant, all that I had prepared over the previous weeks dissipated into a mysterious fog. Not knowing what to do, I shrunk inside of myself and stumbled my way through the experience only to come away horrified. I said the same thing once if not a thousand times ‘I will never do this again’.
I’m not implying that preparation is futile. Instead I’d like to shine a big bright bold light on ‘the right preparation is key’. After many years of trial and error and speaking experiences like this I’ve learned a thing or two. Here are three truths to consider for yourself:
1.Everyone has their own unique preparation process for speaking.
(They may not have discovered it yet.)
2.Practice does not make perfect – in this case experience is key, and there is no perfect.
(Experience, experience, experience – there is no substitute for the real deal.)
3.Preparing your body is just as important as preparing your mind.
(Be ready with strategies to calm yourself in the heat of the moment.)
I said earlier that I would never travel outside the U.S. again, but the truth is I would do it in a heartbeat. I met incredible people who became my good friends. I was introduced to a land with unimaginable history. I witnessed the amazing architecture standing tall where ruins once blanketed the landscape. I left Warsaw, Poland a changed woman. The discomfort and anxiety at the beginning of my trip gave way to curiosity and gratitude. This is exactly how I’ve continued to travel down my journey of speaking too. Each time I speak I experience life in a way I would never had otherwise. Each time I discover more about what I’m capable of and what the world needs to teach me. All of the anxiety and discomfort is worth it to have had the experience.