I was thrown off the deep end when it came to public speaking. The first time I had to do it I was incredibly nervous and was sure I did not speak loudly enough–but at least I didn’t forget anything (thanks to my notes). The audience was forgiving.
Public speaking always had been one of my biggest fears. I was incredibly shy for years; did not want to draw any attention to myself at all; would cringe even when they called my name during role call in class. Over the years, especially in my position as a reporter, most of that shyness has crept away. But there was something about getting up in front of an audience that still made me nervous, sure I would make an utter fool of myself.
It wasn’t something I would choose to do, that’s for sure. And in my last job I had no choice. I suddenly found myself in front of large groups on a very regular basis, and then I was called upon to speak at several conferences, with my largest audience being several hundred people.
I also conducted writing workshops and seminars. All of these things that I “hated” to do gave me a terrific feeling afterward, especially when people would approach me and tell me they liked what I had said.
In that aspect, my fear of public speaking was like my fear of flying — I still don’t like to fly but I like getting to my destination, and by now I’ve flown enough that I no longer close my eyes automatically on the take-off and landing. Likewise, if I didn’t take this challenge and get up there and speak, I would never have known how rewarding it could be.
I also feared letting people down, as well as simply being looked poorly upon for not stepping up to the plate. Public speaking was not in my job description when I first started, but it was a tiny office and we all tended to take on different duties depending on what was needed.
My previous boss used to be the one doing all the public speaking gigs. She had a bubbly and outgoing personality all the time; she made it look easy. But eventually, I became pretty good at it, too–believe it or not, I lost a lot of my nervousness.
I always kept in mind a few key factors:
1. I was the “expert” in the audience’s eye. In reality, on certain topics the audience may have known more than I did. But I was representing an authority figure to them, and therefore, it was less likely I’d feel intimidated.
2. If I forgot something that I was supposed to say, it was not a big deal. If it were something important that an audience member needed to know, I could share it later, one-on-one with that person.
3. I didn’t have all the answers — and I didn’t have to. All I had to say was, “Let me have your email or phone number at the break, and I’ll try to find that out for you.”
4. Simply being myself went a long way. Sure, I had to force myself to speak louder and slow down (I’m from southern New Jersey, where they talk fast), but beyond that, I just spoke naturally, and told a little of my own story when it was appropriate to make a point. I like to make eye contact when I’m standing and talking to someone one-on-one, so I tried to find one or two people in the audience to make eye contact with.