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November 16, 2020

A Personal Tale of Public Speaking and Getting it All Wrong

Yesterday I chaired a Speech Competition for our Toastmasters Club. I put my hand up to help organise the event ✋🏼 then I put my hand up to bring some refreshments ✋🏼then I put my hand up to chair the meeting ✋🏼and then I put my hand up to be a judge ✋🏼. A couple years ago, I would have felt the pressure ALL day. I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the other things that day (my client, the coach certification class I was teaching, the other work I had on my calendar). I would have felt intensely stressed and overwhelmed. But yesterday, it was different.

It got to 2pm. I hadn’t started preparing my notes as chair. At 2pm I started to carefully prepare my notes for the meeting, just as I had scheduled. At 3 pm I checked them and practiced them as I threw a ball for my dog in the park. I drove to the shops and picked up some wine and nibbles, prepared the dinner for the family, ate a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and left for the meeting. I arrived one hour early with plenty of time to set up.

But before the meeting had even started, we decided to change the agenda, my notes now had giant strikes through them. The plan had changed, I would have to improvise….

7pm arrived and the meeting was due to start in 5 minutes but not everyone had arrived. As part of my role I had to brief the contestants. My heart rate started to increase. I waved over the people who had arrived and rifled through my notes, feeling overwhelmed and a bit panicked. As I was trying to finish the briefing, people had questions, forms needed to be completed. It felt like a beehive in my head, so many things to remember and think about. My perfectionist brain was screaming out “it’s not good enough! You are doing it ALL WRONG!” I took a deep breath and kept going.

I whispered something to the chief judge, “should I announce the order of speakers?” Yes! Another last minute change. In the past I would have been angry, I would have been annoyed that something unforeseen had happened this late in the game. I would have been terrified of changing at the last minute. I think the worst part is I would have been fuming. I would have tried to blame someone else. I possibly, actually quite likely, I would have decided to quit Toastmasters. I couldn’t have handled the imperfection. That was the old me, the perfectionist who was so afraid of failure and judgement, that I couldn’t see anything else.

The meeting started and I got up to speak, I read the order of the speakers too quickly and someone interrupted me to read it again. Again my brain wanted to tell me what I was doing wrong. But I course corrected. “I can do this!” I slowed down, “I know how to do this”. I did it.

The meeting went on, there were plenty of bumps along the way. The thing that made this occasion different was, I didn’t beat myself up. I actually enjoyed standing up and speaking in front of all those people. It was fun. I left the meeting full of energy. Smiling and happy. Me, the person who had vowed at the age of 15 to never speak in public ever again.

It’s not the circumstances around us that make us stressed and overwhelmed and drain us of energy. It’s the way we think about those circumstances.