I, like most people, would rather do just about anything before speaking in front of an audience. And yet, in order to fulfill my goals of promoting mental health, public speaking has become increasingly necessary for me.
My typical way of preparing for any kind of public talk is to literally script it in advance, jokes and all, and rehearse the heck out of it so that it comes across as natural. And I pull it off every time. I get the applause, and the positive comments. I succeed at projecting an image of complete confidence in spite of my anxiety.
That’s the thing about perfectionism – it’s usually rewarded. But it’s a lot of work. And quite honestly, as a busy working mother building a business and trying to get on top of this social media thing, I frankly no longer have the time for this level of obsessiveness.
It also occurred to me that my perfectionistic approach essentially made me a hypocrite and had the potential to undermine one of the core messages I am trying to promote: the power of authenticity. How could I speak about the power and importance of sharing one’s authentic voice while hiding behind a script? How could I present a completely rehearsed talk when my goal is to make a genuine connection with the audience?
So when I was asked to be one of 6 presenters at an event called My Epoch, I knew that I needed to take a different approach. The spirit of the event was to make genuine connections with people you might not normally meet with the aim of cross pollinating knowledge and inspiring new ideas. Clearly, there was no better opportunity to challenge myself to truly ‘walk the walk.’ It was time to let go of fear.
You see, I realized that the true motivator behind my pursuit of perfection was not conscientiousness, but fear. Fear that I suddenly would be unable to articulate my thoughts, when in fact I receive positive feedback about the way I convey ideas every day be it with clients or in media interviews. Fear that I would somehow present as not knowing what I was talking about when in fact I am an expert in my field. Fear that I would make a fool of myself…well, that actually happens on a daily basis. But it’s ok. I recover and move on. If that should happen, if I should reveal a flaw, reveal that I am indeed a human being, it would only serve to solidify my connection with the audience.
With this new perspective in mind, I chose to lead from the heart and to connect with the audience by sharing a genuine part of myself, even if that meant that I might stumble along the way.
In the days leading up to the event, I did find myself wrestling with the temptation to draft my talk as I had done in the past. I mean, the people attending paid to come and I wanted them to get something out of it. I did not want to insult them by looking ill prepared. I wavered and thought that I should just forget this little experiment and write out and rehearse my talk.
But rather than give in, I stayed true to my intention and let the anxious thoughts wash over me. I chose instead to just observe my own process. And in fact my internal battle was actually a little amusing.
However, I did not ignore the anxiety gremlin entirely. I did have to do something to prepare. And so I struck a compromise: I would draft a brief outline with the main points I wanted to communicate. Nothing more.
I decided to dedicate my 6 minutes at the mic describing why I am so passionate about my work as a psychologist. I wanted them to understand how privileged I feel to be able to witness and support the human spirit in each client I see, regardless of whether they are suffering or aspiring for something more. I wanted each person to walk away with the understanding that seeing a counselor or a psychologist is not about weakness, it is about assuming control to Design Your Life.
The day of the event was like any other Saturday filled with making meals, working out, cleaning up and taking advantage of some time to take a blessed nap. I arrived at the event early and while I spoke with my fellow presenters and then the guests as they arrived, I found that I was not nervous.
The only time a felt a bit anxious was while listening to the presenter just before I was to go on. This was largely because I was trying to review the main points of what I wanted to say in my head but could not do it effectively while also trying to listen. Recognizing the futility of this form of last minute preparation, I gave up on trying and focused on listening to Dennis and his honest and heart felt talk on the benefits of connecting with people outside of one’s typical social circles. Dennis finished to resounding applause; a hard act to follow. It was now my turn.
To quote one of the participants I “..nailed it”. As I spoke about the privileged role I have of witnessing and empowering the human spirit, I could see… or rather I could feel that the audience was with me. I was able to make eye contact and take in their smiles of encouragement as I scanned the room. It was actually really great.
The comments that various audience members provided me with all the validation I needed for my new approach. All of them expressed feeling moved. I had succeeded.
Not only had I made a connection, but I proved to myself that fear was not necessary for me to perform well. I could listen to my anxiety as a sign for the need to prepare without letting fear take over and push me into obsessiveness. I could keep focused on my own goals, show up, and let the process unfold.
I tried it and now I am sold. There is no going back.
How about you? Is there any way that these ideas could fit for your life?
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
I can’t believe it has been months since my last blog post. Where did the time go?
My perception of time flying is likely a reflection of living a very full life these days. In other words, I have been really busy. I am sure many of you can relate.
But, I’m not complaining. On the contrary, I am truly thankful for the many great experiences I have had over the past month. They have allowed me to connect with incredibly talented people, all of whom are doing their part to enrich our lives and essentially make this world a better place.
One theme that stands out among the work of each of the artists, health providers, and entrepreneurs I’ve been fortunate to meet and collaborate with over the past month, is the importance of connection; real connection. The kind of connection that can’t be achieved through a screen or a device. The kind that can only be experienced by paying attention to the small things, the things that can easily go unnoticed but are essential to allowing us to feel grounded in a world where the constant distractions take us away from being present, from being connected to the ‘here and now”.
The month started with the launch of Walking with Walser, a delightful little book by my friend Daphne Gordon. Through Urusla, Gordon takes us on a journey full of quirky insights and reflections in response to the things she notices during her daily walks along Queen Street in Toronto. Her fascination with the little things gives Ursula a child-like quality that is so compelling it inspires the reader to want to leave the house on foot to experience the adventure that awaits outside, an adventure that is always available provided we are actually prepared to pay attention.
This theme of attending to the “here and now” was the focus of discussion among all the presenters at the Integrative Health Institute’s free information night titled, The Next BIG Thing in Brain Health. As clinicians from our various backgrounds, we talked about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of mindfulness, a state we can practice by engaging in activities with the intention of remaining focused on the present. We discussed the importance of slowing things down, and observing our own thoughts without judgment so that we can make conscious choices, rather than engage with the world in a reactive manner.
As we noted that evening, advances in the field of neuroscience are literally showing us that these kinds of experiences contribute to the resilience of the brain as we age. Focused concentration, new experiences and having fun are all important for the brain’s ability to adapt to its environment and to form new connections. This is what allows us to learn and make new memories throughout our lives.
Unfortunately, much of our modern technologies, or rather our attachments to them, seem to be leading us in the opposite direction, into a state where rapidly shifting attention has become the norm.
One of my favourite moments of the night was when Corinne Korytkowski, mindfulness coach, acknowledged that we all, including us “experts”, struggle with being present. Amen! It certainly is not something that comes naturally to me. But it is something I have been working on in a conscious way for the past 10 years.
My children have probably been my best mindfulness teachers to date. There is nothing like a screaming child to make you let go of your best laid plans. On the flip side, there is little that compares to experiencing the world through a child’s eyes and being reintroduced to it as a place of wonder and amazement.
So, whatever it is you do today, consider taking a moment or two to slow down, “unplug”, and really pay attention to what is happening in the moment. You might be surprised by what you experience.