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.