Public Speaking: The Good, Bad & Ugly
Stepping on stage to speak is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my life. I truly love the entire process: picking a topic, choosing the delivery, curating visuals, practicing and delivering the talk with the immediacy of a live audience. OK, almost the whole process. What follows the talk is incredibly stressful.
Am I a natural? To some extent. I know I have a comfort speaking in front of audiences that many people do not share. However I still get nervous and have plenty of hurdles to clear every single time, both external and internal. So here it is, the good, bad and ugly of stepping into that spotlight.
I Bring My ‘A Game’
It doesn’t matter if I’m speaking in support of a cause I care about, being paid to share my business expertise or am part of a lineup of speakers who are there supporting a passion project; I come prepared. The reason is simple: the audience deserves it.
I know my material cold.
By the time I hit the stage, my cats and husband will have heard the iterations countless times.
Some lines are written really well, but are absolute tongue twisters for me to say. Others were never great on the page and don’t improve aloud. This only comes to light when practicing. If there is a time limit, I rehearse until my delivery, pauses and all, is under the limit. If I will be using a handheld mic I break out the trusty hairbrush, following in the footsteps of aspiring comics and singers around the globe.
When the emotions take over, the excitement, the interaction with the audience; rehearsing allows me to take a few extra pauses, to work with the audience and not get lost in the moment.
It isn’t my fault if technology fails, however, not bringing my ‘A game’ on the day of stepping into the spotlight falls squarely on my shoulders.
No speakers notes? Don’t need’em.
Mic stopped working? I can project.
Visuals not functioning? No problem - well the audience will miss out on some great cat slides but the speech itself isn’t disrupted.
There is another great reason for being prepared. The inner demon who wants to shake my confidence.
And let me tell you, she is very good at what she does.
Warning: Impostor Syndrome Straight Ahead
Inevitably as the date approaches, Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly, soul crushing head.
Impostor Syndrome happens to anyone. It can spring up at any time. Self-doubt is a human reaction, usually when we try something new but surprisingly, it earns frequent flier miles on the core functions of our livelihood.
On the show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Fallon discuss how it hits them:
Sometimes when I’m backstage I think,’ I don’t even know why I picked this business, I don’t have what these people want to see’ -J Seinfeld
Addressing Jimmy Fallon, “how close, up until the curtains opening, and you walking out have you ever said to yourself ‘I can’t do this’?”
Right up to the curtain opening - J Fallon
In my case, maybe I get tempted to reach out and connect with the fellow speakers, sponsors, or organizers to wish them well prior to the event. Or I catch a new article or video on the same subject. Next thing you know I am reading a bio that starts me down a the insecurity spiral.
“What the hell am I doing on the same stage as…?”
“They’ve got way more experience than I do”
“Why would anyone care about my perspective?”
Since I have already put in all the hard work (thank you ‘A game’!) this momentary lapse of sanity passes over me and moves on by. If it wants to take hold, my heels dig in and I flip the script.
“I am ready to show everyone why I deserve a place on that stage/in front of that room…”
Needless to say, I still get hooked. Being prepared keeps those nerves from taking me down.
Getting on stage doesn’t worry me — yet post-talk networking stresses me out.
My memory is usually quite trustworthy, but coming off a talk, my brain is a fog machine that makes everything a little hazy. My focus disappears. The nervous energy dissipates. At the same time I have to start trying to remember who everyone is. Because I am seeing people outside of the normal context it takes longer to put two and two together.
That person looks familiar, how do I know them?
Quick wave. A smile.
Oh, now we are talking.
I’m half-listening as I frantically search the recesses of my brain for their name.
Darn, Greg just joined the conversation and pretty soon I will be expected to introduce him to…what is her name again….Betty? Yes, Betty! Phew, made it through without anyone noticing.
Also, I am not good at small talk. I get so much pleasure from hours-long conversations with people, but the breezy nature of networking confounds me. Meeting people with similar interests should be a lovely experience. In any other setting I would enjoy it. I love getting to know people, just not hundreds of people at once!
Maybe I still am waiting for the not-so-subtle sales pitch. Or maybe it is the reminder that I am so bad at promoting myself in person that I heap on the extra stress in networking situations and forget how to speak like a normal human being in a social setting. Stumbling over names, forgetting where people work and overall doing a lackluster job of communicating.
The irony is not lost on me.
Glendalynn Dixon guides business transformations focused on culture, leadership & data management. She is a freelance writer, speaker and mentor who champions women in technology and uses stories from her wild ride of a life to challenge preconceived notions. She is also the creator of The Successful People Manager, a no-nonsense online management training program for leaders committed to professional growth.